By Bernie Wilson, AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO — The Colorado Rockies keep stumbling as they try to protect their tenuous hold on the NL’s second wild card.
They’ve lost four straight games and six of eight, the latest coming Thursday night when veteran left-hander Clayton Richard and rookie slugger Christian Villanueva led the San Diego Padres to a 3-0 win.
Richard (8-14) struck out eight in 7 1/3 innings a day after agreeing to a two-year contract extension through 2019, and Villanueva homered for the second straight game and drove in two runs.
Manager Bud Black said the “spirit’s good” for a Rockies team that kept its one-game lead over Milwaukee thanks to the Brewers’ 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
“The guys are embracing where we are, in a pennant race for the first time in a couple years for this organization,” Black said. “You look at the landscape of baseball. From April until now, it’s an ebb and flow. There’s a rhythm to this season that goes up and down. The last few games the bats haven’t woken, but you look at ten days ago, or two weeks ago where our bats were, and look at it that way. Our time is coming to swing the bats.”
Other than a 16-0 blowout win against the Padres in Denver on Saturday, the Rockies have struggled.
Colorado lefty Tyler Anderson (5-6) was pulled after 5 2/3 innings, having allowed three runs and six hits, with six strikeouts and a walk.
Black, who managed the Padres from 2007 until June 2015, came with the hook after Anderson allowed an RBI single by Villanueva for a 3-0 lead with two outs in the sixth. Two batters earlier, Hunter Renfroe hit a sacrifice fly.
Five days earlier, Anderson got the win in the 16-run romp.
Richard allowed seven hits and walked one. He was pulled after pinch-hitter Pat Valaika singled and Charlie Blackmon reached on shortstop Yangervis Solarte’s single with one out in the eighth. Kirby Yates came on and struck out DJ LeMahieu in a 12-pitch at-bat and got Nolan Arenado to force Blackmon.
“It’s a good win for the team against a good team that’s battling to be in the playoffs,” Richard said. “These games mean a lot to them and we’re going to play every game as if it means a lot to us.”
The Padres are in a deep rebuilding mode and are 28 games behind the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
Villanueva, who made his big league debut on Monday night, homered to left-center leading off the fifth. He got his first hit, a single, and first homer in a loss to Arizona on Wednesday night.
Villanueva’s rise to the big leagues was delayed because he was stuck behind Kris Bryant in the Cubs’ organization and broke a leg last year.
“He’s been fun to watch,” manager Andy Green said. “The swing, just looking at it, it looks right, it plays. It’s got some buggy whip to it. There’s clearly power there.”
Homering again was “really special,” Villanueva said through a translator. “I’ve had my family here seeing me, so they’re watching games, which is amazing. Also, helping the team win. It’s really unforgettable. It’s amazing.”