WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kyle Freeland tickled the toes of a sleeping giant in the fourth inning Sunday, then he poked another in the ribs. The Rockies’ rookie lefty, their best hope this season in a boyish pitching rotation, continued to boldly tread in Colorado’s 10-6 victory over the Nationals.
In a second consecutive victory over the National League East leaders, in the first of game of doubleheader, the Rockies (60-45) clinched a road series for the first time since June 11, when they took three of four from the Cubs in Chicago. More importantly, they rose up to a mammoth. The Nationals (61-42) are just two games better than Colorado.
The top of the Rockies’ lineup stood tallest. Charlie Blackmon hit four singles and scored four runs, DJ LeMahieu finished 3-for-5 with two run-scoring doubles, and Nolan Arenado reached base in five trips to the plate, with three hits including a career high-tying sixth triple.
And Freeland, the 24-year-old whiz kid from Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High, pushed back against the best offensive team in the NL, holding them to three earned runs (four total) on nine hits through five innings. It was not his flashiest start — Freeland had allowed just two runs on six hits total in his past three appearances, over 17 1/3 innings — but it was among his gutsiest.
In a pivotal fourth inning, with two runners on and the Rox leading 7-4, Freeland faced Bryce Harper with one out. Harper must have felt the heat. After Colorado rookie German Marquez helped snap his 19-game hitting streak Saturday, Harper was 0-for the series and on the prowl for action.
But Freeland attacked him directly with four consecutive fastballs, slung across the strike zone to the outside corner. He struck Harper out on a 93-mph dart.
Ryan Zimmerman was next. Zimmerman in the third bombed his 23rd homer of the season, a three-run shot to right-center field off Freeland. Colorado manager Bud Black, though, allowed Freeland to avenge himself. In a 1-2 count, Freeland flung a slider toward the ankles that Zimmerman flied out to center field. The two runners were left scoreless.
Freeland (11-7, 3.71 ERA) is Colorado’s pitching leader this season, by victories and earned run average, even in his first campaign. And after surviving the the Harper-Zimmerman tandem, Freeland flew through a 1-2-3 fifth, catapulted by three impressive defensive plays.
Gerardo Parra and Trevor Story each snatched hard line drives to put away Anthony Rendon and Adrian Sanchez. And Arenado flipped a U-turn to dead-sprint 60 feet into foul territory toward left field, snaring a blind pop-up straight over his head from back to front.
A four-run Rockies fourth inning broke open a lead, as catcher Ryan Hanigan hit home Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon singled in Trevor Story and Arenado scored Blackmon.
Zimmerman hit another homer, a second-decker, in the seventh off recent Rox addition Pat Neshek, but Greg Holland entered the ninth with the bases loaded and one out before sweeping away his 33rd save this season. Anthony Rendon hit an RBI single to right field, but Holland rebounded to force Howie Kendrick into a video-reviewed, game-ending double play started by LeMahieu.