DENVER » Heath Bell found a way to get out of trouble and give the San Diego Padres some breathing room.
Bell induced a game-ending double play with the winning run on first, pinch-hitter Matt Stairs hit a two-run homer in the eighth and the Padres hung on to beat the Colorado Rockies 7-6 last night to maintain their lead in the NL West.
That win, coupled with San Francisco’s 1-0 loss to Los Angeles, and San Diego suddenly had a 1 1/2 -game cushion in the division.
The Padres couldn’t have picked a better time to win their first series against the Rockies this season, taking the first two of this pivotal three-game set.
"Every game is a big one this time of year. Every team will tell you that," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The Rockies are tough and they’re especially tough at home."
The Rockies, who had their 10-game winning streak halted the night before, tumbled again, dropping them 3 1/2 games behind San Diego. They remain 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL wild-card race after the Braves were beaten 6-0 by Washington.
"We’re not done by any stretch of the imagination," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "We still have got baseball left to play. It’s still all in front of us."
It was all in front of the Rockies in the ninth. They scored two runs, had runners on first and second with one out and Bell teetering on the brink of a blown game.
But Bell got Eric Young Jr. to ground sharply to shortstop Miguel Tejada, who ranged to his left and stepped on second before firing to first and getting the speedy Young by a step.
"For us to win the first game was really big, and to come in and win a game like this, especially me not having it," Bell said. "I mean, they were rallying back and they seemed like they had my number, but I made a good pitch at the end. … It’s definitely a big win for us."
Bell has been brilliant in recent weeks, previously saving 28 straight. His 29th in a row, though, wouldn’t be easy.
He got off to a good start when he was summoned into the game with two outs in the eighth with the Rockies threatening. Bell ended the inning by getting hot-hitting Troy Tulowitzki to fly out.
He pumped his fist as he left the mound.
In the top of the ninth, Nick Hundley had a sacrifice fly to make it a 7-4 game.
Bell needed it as he was shaky in the final frame, allowing an RBI double to Melvin Mora after Todd Helton led off the inning with a double. Pinch-hitter Jay Payton later singled in a run as well, making it a one-run game and bringing the fans to their feet in hopes of another late-inning comeback.
He walked pinch-hitter Jason Giambi before quashing the Rockies’ comeback and quieting the stunned crowd.
"I just felt like today was one of those days that I just didn’t feel like I had my ‘A’ game," Bell said. "I probably had my ‘B’ or ‘C’ game, and when you have your ‘B’ or ‘C’ game, you’ve got to figure out a way to get people out. I managed to make a couple of good pitches and get myself out of the jam."