MILWAUKEE • The difference between winning and losing in the postseason, it turns out, is roughly the width of the 5-year-old Chapstick that lives in your jeans pocket.
Thursday night after the latest episode of Heart Attack City, a.k.a. Rockies playoff baseball, I slid a tube of lip balm between the dirt divot from Charlie Blackmon’s foul ball and the chalk line that separates fair from foul.
And the Chapstick wasn’t wide enough to fit in the in-between. Too girthy. So I still can’t say for certain if the umpiring crew made the correct call in reversing Chuck’s would-be double from a fair ball to a foul ball — and that’s after I peered into the dirt from 6 inches above the freakin’ divot. It was that close.
“I don’t feel good,” Blackmon said after the Brewers survived a trademark Rockies rally to win 3-2 in 10 innings of Game 1 of this National League Division Series. “But I don’t feel bad.”
What exactly does Chuck feel like?
”I feel like a baseball player.”
These guys are exhausted. They’re sore and exhausted. After their fourth game in a fourth city, all this week, the Rockies trudged around the locker room more like zombies than pro athletes. At some point — and Game 2 on Friday at Miller Park is that point! — their bats must come alive, or this season will be dead. The 2-3-4-5 batters in the lineup went 0 for 14 facing a “bullpen day” from the Brewers, who used the same number of pitchers as the Rockies (six) but shuffled them in and out one, two or three innings at a time. And the Rox had one hit to their name going into the ninth.
”Seeing a different pitcher every at-bat is never easy,” said Nolan Arenado, who went 0 for 3 on a series stage he’s been anxiously waiting for.
Nothing’s come easy at the plate for the Rockies. Not in the tiebreaker loss to the Dodgers (two runs), the wild card all-timer against the Cubs (two runs), or Game 1 against the beefy Brewers (two runs).
(Which reminds me: Is it a job requirement for Brewers to adhere to the Wisconsin diet of fried cheese and grilled meat snacks? Between Mike Moustakas and Jesus Aguilar, the Brewers could hold a tryout to protect Aaron Rodgers with the Packers.)
If part of their mission this postseason is to smack the Coors Field stigma across the head, the Rockies are doing a terrible job of it. In their last 12 games away from home sweet home, the Rox have scored 0, 2, 2, 2, 5, 6, 2, 2, 2, 3, 0 and 0 runs. That’s two runs per game. That’s not enough runs to beat the 96-win Brewers.
“Every time we play a game we score two runs,” Blackmon said. “That’s not very good. We should probably do better than that.”
None of this postseason baseball stuff makes any sense, by the way. Case in point: when Adam Ottavino built an 0-2 count against Javy Baez at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, hitters facing “Otto” with an 0-2 count were 0 for 36 this season. Baez got a hit and tied the game. Thursday night, Mike Moustakas faced an 0-2 count against Ottavino ... and got a hit. And it was the game-winning hit, scoring Christian Yelich and sending Bernie the mascot down the curvy yellow slide and 43,382 home happy.
The Rockies had a base open and should have walked Moustakas, but that’s easy to say now.
“I thought about it, sure,” manager Bud Black said.
The Rockies pitched with the Brewers. They didn’t hit with the Brewers, and that’s what must change. Good news! All those relievers who confused their bats on Thursday are about to be replaced by the complete opposite on Friday. Remember old friend Jhoulys Chacin? Of course you do. Chacin pitched 671 innings for the Rockies from 2009-14. Blackmon, Arenado, D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez — they know Chacin and his stuff like he’s Kyle Freeland or Scott Oberg.
”Pretty much all the guys are my friends still,” Chacin said on Thursday.
OK, so hoping and praying the bats catch fire away from Coors is a dicey proposition. The folks who spun gold rally towels and booed Matt Holliday, a former nemesis in the NL Central, aren’t going to shut their mouths to help the Rockies out. But 165 games is a big enough sample size to suggest this Rockies lineup isn’t a Rockies lineup that can be counted on to hit.
Ryan McMahon or Gerardo Parra need a spot in the lineup. And bat Carlos Gonzalez cleanup against his buddy, Chacin. Shake it up. McMahon drew a 10-pitch walk right after Ian Desmond hacked at the first pitch and stranded CarGo at third. Parra’s emotion can counter the Brewers’, and his single in the ninth looked smooth, too. Sticking with the same plan when “every time we play a game we score two runs” would be a frustrating way to approach their first playoff series in nine years.
”I feel like our best at-bats did come off the bench,” Blackmon said. “I’d just like to see it a little more from the guys who are out there in the beginning.”
Back to the Chapstick. It’s been through the ringer, much like the Rockies this week. Blackmon eventually finished his at-bat with a single that scored Parra, so it’s not like the fair-foul call totally altered the outcome. But the controversial foul ball would have been a double, leaving Blackmon on second with no outs, scoring Parra and Holliday. That’s the alternate reality, and you have to like the Rockies’ chances in the alternate reality.
“From that angle (watching the replay on the Jumbotron from second base), you could not — without a doubt — tell that it was a foul ball,” Blackmon said.
Hey, I stuck an eyeball almost into the divot and still wouldn’t bet $5 on it either way. The dirt splatter had smeared the chalk. How the umps reversed the call in a 34-second review, I don’t know. But the current reality is the Rockies must start hitting before the 13th (Tuesday) and ninth (Thursday) innings of playoff games. If they don’t, this series is over quicker than you can say, “foul ball.”
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)