Chad Bettis’ return to the big leagues after twice battling off cancer appeared to hit an early speed bump when Braves lead-off hitter Ender Inciarte lined one to left that snuck under Gerardo’s Parra’s outstretched glove.
It looked as though Inciarte had the speed to take advantage of Parra’s fielding gaffe for an inside-the-park home run. The ball dribbled all the way to the wall before Parra could collect it. He hit cut-off man Trevor Story, who whipped it to catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
The throw arrived just in time. Lucroy tagged Inciarte out. Blip averted.
Inciarte’s adventure around the bases was the closest the Braves would come to crossing home plate against Bettis on Monday. The righty, who made his return to the Rockies rotation less than three months after finishing chemotherapy, was spectacular in his 2017 debut, throwing seven scoreless innings as the Rockies got a 3-0 win.
“I don’t think I was really in tune with what was going on until the fifth,” Bettis said. “Just so many emotions. I was trying to get them under control, but it was taking much longer than what was expected.”
Bettis, Colorado’s innings pitched leader a season ago, first learned he had testicular cancer last winter. He had surgery to remove a testicle in December and believed he’d beaten the disease. But then this spring, doctors told Bettis the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
Bettis was insistent at the time that he’d return to pitch as a Rockie in 2017. He was right.
Bettis forced the Braves into 11 ground-ball outs. He struck out two. He got some help in the fourth when D.J. LeMahieu made a full-extension diving stop to end the inning. LeMahieu’s grab likely saved a run, as a Brave was already on second base.
Atlanta threatened again in the seventh when Kurt Suzuki hit a lead-off double and moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt. Bettis negated it by getting Ozzie Albies to pop out to shallow center and then getting Dansby Swanson to fly out to deep center.
“That was outstanding,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Once the game started, I was sort of feeding off Chad. He was pitching. This was a baseball game. He wanted to perform and pitch well for the Rockies. He pitched great. That was the first time I’ve ever seen him pitch live. That was outstanding pitching.”
The Rockies broke the scoreless tie in the eighth. Charlie Blackmon smacked his 14th triple of the season to start it off. He scored two batters later on Gerardo Parra’s RBI grounder. Carlos Gonzalez made it 3-0 with a bases-loaded single to center later that inning.
Greg Holland got the save in the ninth, his first successful one since blowing two in a row last week.
The Rockies — led by Bettis — snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 66-52 with the win.
“It crept in this morning when I woke up,” Bettis said. “Just thinking about everything that happened, everything that my family and I had been through. I was holding back tears.
“It was great. I don’t think I could’ve drawn it up any better.”
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