Monday's Late Game

Rockies' Marquis Shuts Down Nationals, 1-0

Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jason Marquis, front, looks to throw as Washington Nationals base runner Ryan Zimmerman leads off first base in the first inning of a baseball game in Denver on Monday, July 6, 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jason Marquis, front, looks to throw as Washington Nationals base runner Ryan Zimmerman leads off first base in the first inning of a baseball game in Denver on Monday, July 6, 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski - AP)
By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DENVER -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

Pitching is baseball's lion, perched fierce atop the food chain. The best pitching trumps everything, consumes whatever it wants; that's just the natural order of things. Certain pitchers, they do what they want, when they want. Indeed, Manny Acta, when talking aces, lists them just by their last names. Nothing more is needed: Halladay. Santana. Sabathia.

But Marquis? Jason Marquis? Now, the Washington Nationals know. They walked right up to him on Monday and got too close. Marquis's last name is not yet a synonym for dominance and doom, but this year, he has unexpectedly become an ace. While the aura awaits, he maintains the excellence. With eight innings of shutout ball, he ripped the Nationals to scraps, pulling out his major league-leading 11th win and dictating a 1-0 Colorado win in this series opener.

Marquis, elected to his first career all-star game on Sunday, is one of baseball's most fascinating reclamation projects. Prior to this season, the right-hander had made 198 big league starts -- enough for a middling track record and a discount trade price. In January, Colorado General Manager Dan O'Dowd acquired Marquis from the Cubs in exchange for reliever Luis Vizcaíno, who's since been released by two organizations. Perhaps the Rockies didn't know what to expect with Marquis, but they certainly didn't expect dominance. After all, pitchers come to Coors Field and get better the way tourists go to the Yukon and get tan.

Marquis got better. A lot better. The pitcher who once led the league in homers allowed and losses? The pitchers whose 3-10, 6.72 ERA second half once kept him off the 2006 Cardinals' postseason roster? He's been replaced by a guy with a longer stride, a vicious sinker and, now, an eye-catching run of success. Marquis, with a 3.61 ERA, has tossed 17 consecutive scoreless innings. He's gone at least eight innings in six of his 17 starts. "Marquis," Acta said, "was just outstanding today."

"When I first faced him eight years ago or nine years ago or whatever it was," Nationals left fielder Adam Dunn said, "he threw about 95 mph, straight as an arrow. Then someone taught him a sinker and, you know, the difference between him now and in the past is that he throws every pitch for a strike. He used to walk you. Now he's really good and fixed his mechanics, and his ball moves everywhere."

Against the Nationals, Marquis, who yielded seven hits and walked two (one intentionally), worked with a simplistic strategy. He let Washington's batters take their swings. And for the most part, the balls traveled as if struck by Nerf bats. Through four innings, Marquis had allowed only one hit. At one point in that stretch, he retired five batters using just 13 pitches. Tap, dribble, tap. Inning over.

Meantime, the Nationals kept it close and forced Marquis to keep his airtight form. Rookie pitcher Craig Stammen, a fellow sinkerballer, served up a Colorado run in the first when No. 3 hitter Todd Helton blistered an RBI double into the open farm land of left-center. But from then on, Stammen matched Marquis, retiring the side in the second with just seven pitches, getting a trio of ground balls to first in the fourth, even forcing three double plays. Stammen, pulled after seven innings, gave up just five hits, walking one.

"We lost, so I'm not that satisfied," Stammen later said.

Still, his effort nearly allowed the Nationals to pull even, or even take the lead. Entering the bottom of the seventh, Marquis had looked almost untouchable, giving up just two hits and permitting no base runners beyond second. But then, he got a little shaky.

To start the seventh, Dunn thumped a double off the right field wall, and Josh Willingham followed with a single, setting up runners on first and third, no outs. The next at-bat stunted the Nationals' momentum, though. Cristian Guzmán bounced one back to the mound; Marquis snagged the ball, twirled toward third, noticed Dunn a few steps down the line, and whirled a throw to third. Dunn was out, 1-5. Suddenly, Washington had runners on first and second, one out, the bottom of its order up. After a Josh Bard hit loaded the bases, Ronnie Belliard grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.

Marquis is no stranger to pitching deep into games -- in 11 of 17 starts this year, he's gone at least seven -- but again in the eighth he showed just a moment of vulnerability. Two more Washington singles and a two-out intentional walk to Dunn loaded the bases for Willingham, but he flew out to right field.

That was the 104th and final pitch of Marquis's night.

Perhaps this start lacked the stunning numbers of his previous outing -- a nine-inning, 85-pitch two-hitter against the Dodgers -- but this time, Colorado left the final three outs to closer Huston Street. In the ninth, he retired the side in order.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company