Maddux masterful on mound in win
Right-hander picks up win No. 345 allowing only one run
DENVER -- As far as aspirations go, Heath Bell would like nothing more than to morph into the second coming of Greg Maddux, although that does not mean the flame-throwing reliever is ready to trade power for precision.
Where Bell, the Padres' eighth-inning relief specialist, wants to emulate Maddux most is in the way the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer has such strong conviction in his pitches, no matter the count, situation or other possibly-distracting factors.
"It's how confident he is with every single pitch. I try to be like that. He's got no worries, he can be 2-0, 3-0 but he's going to make the pitch," Bell said. "That's the fun part about watching him. It's like he can throw strikes every time."
It has certainly seemed that way lately for Maddux, who turned in another strong start in a blissful stretch that continued on Saturday at Coors Field, as Maddux and Bell contributed largely to the Padres' 3-1 victory over the Rockies before a crowd of 30,429.
Maddux (12-9) won for the seventh time in his past eight starts, allowing one run over six efficient innings that saw the right-hander, who now has 345 career victories, need just 67 pitches to get him through six innings against the Rockies (73-68).
San Diego relievers Doug Brocail, Bell and closer Trevor Hoffman combined for the last nine outs, with Bell weathering several dicey situations, to help San Diego (77-64) snap a three-game losing skid and remain 2 1/2 games up in the Wild Card standings over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Padres certainly threw a diverse-enough blend of arms at the Rockies, who managed just three hits off Maddux, who retired 13 of the final 14 batters that he faced, extending his consecutive innings streak of innings without a walk to 54 1/3 innings.
"Greg was great ... what is it 11 starts where he's been great?" San Diego manager Bud Black said. "He was efficient throughout, moving it up and down, in and out."
Maddux, who has lost just once since Aug. 8 and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his last eight starts, has trimmed his ERA from 4.20 to 3.68. Better still, he's provided consistency to a rotation that no longer includes David Wells and hasn't had Chris Young at his best since July.
Maddux, as is typically the case when he's going well, turned the ground ball into an art form once again, coaxing 12 ground-ball outs out of the Rockies' lineup, including five to finish his start.
"They just hit everything at everyone," said Maddux, never too keen on talking about his own exploits. "It's just one of those things. I think [second baseman Geoff] Blum got a lot of balls again, which is good."
Leave the strikeouts to someone else, like Bell and Hoffman, who combined for five in the last 2 1/3 innings, including three for Bell in a 1 1/3-inning stint that included a few tight situations.
Bell got the final out of the seventh inning with a runner on first base as he got Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to ground out to end the inning. The eighth inning would be much more difficult, though.
Bell started the inning by striking out Ryan Spilborghs and then Ian Stewart on a nasty 83 mph slider. But speedy leadoff hitter Willy Taveras reached on an infield single that was topped in front of the mound that third baseman Morgan Ensberg couldn't handle.
Taveras then stole second base, though he left with a straining his right quad. The next batter, Kazuo Matsui, then smashed a hard one-hopper to Greene at shortstop, who got the ball, spun to his right, and fired it wide of first, sending pinch-runner Cory Sullivan, the potential-tying run, to third base.
No worries for Bell, who threw three consecutive fastballs -- pitches that hit 97, 96 and 96 mph -- before getting All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday to swing through a four-seam fastball to end the inning.
"I felt I had a good fastball today and I could beat him," Bell said.
Hoffman then followed with a crisp ninth inning that saw him record career strikeout No. 1,000 that came against nemesis Todd Helton, who entered the at-bat hitting .619 over 21 career at-bats against Hoffman.
"His fastball command was great and he threw some devastating changeups," Black said. "Those [changeups] are set up by the fastball. It's the guessing game hitters have to go through with Trev."
After striking out Helton on a changeup, Hoffman got Garret Atkins to popup before striking out Brad Hawpe with another changeup to end the game.
"I was just trying to be aggressive with a two-run lead at Coors Field," Hoffman said. "... walks will kill you."
The Padres didn't need much in the way of offense with Maddux on the mound and, well, they certainly didn't get much from Rockies' starting pitcher Jeff Francis, as San Diego got run-scoring singles from Kevin Kouzmanoff and Khalil Greene and another run on a double-play ball that Josh Bard hit into.
Greene's single in the top of the ninth inning gave the Padres a little cushion, though with the way that Maddux, Brocail, Bell and Hoffman threw, any such additional cushion was more a luxury than a necessity.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.