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End Zone

In the context of a season spanning six months and 162 games, the idea of placing extra importance on any single afternoon, especially in June, usually makes no sense.

But from this vantage point, it was impossible not to place extra meaning on the Colorado Rockies' series finale last Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe it wasn't an all-or-nothing game, with the guarantee of dire consequences for falling short. At the least, though, it was one of those special opportunities that come along periodically during any season.

In other words, the game offered a chance for the Rockies to set a new course. They could break away from the painful downturn that turned all their optimism of April into exasperation through May and early June. They could win that Sunday game and make it a three-out-of-four weekend against the Dodgers. They could stay in decent position behind San Francisco in the National League West.

And, most of all, they might be able, at long last, to celebrate a victory at Coors Field by starting ace Ubaldo Jiménez, which by itself would provide a huge lift.

Mix all those factors together, along with the fact that Colorado already had won two of the first three games in that series with the Dodgers, and you see why that Sunday finale took on extra significance.

And for two innings, it looked in every detail like a gateway to the rest of the Rockies' season. Seth Smith banged a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, and Jiménez made it through two innings with a 3-0 lead.

Then, disaster in the third. Ty Wigginton, playing third base, botched what could/should have been a double-play grounder. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, James Loney hit a grand-slam off Jiménez. Boom, four unearned and unnecessary runs, just like that.

Before the day ended, Colorado had three errors (after two the night before), Los Angeles had five unearned runs (after three the night before), and the Rockies trudged away with a bushel of what-ifs from a 10-8 defeat (after losing 11-7 the night before).

So instead of all those potential positives, Colorado staggered away at 31-34, with Jiménez at 1-7 (after giving up a career-worst three homers Sunday), and his struggles along with the uncertainty at third base emerging as typical of how the season has gone so far.

Is it too early to write off the Rockies for 2011? Probably, if only because San Francisco has had its own problems and isn't running away with the division.

But too many things are going wrong for Colorado. And when you throw in bad defense, which hadn't been a concern until now, it's hard to envision a quick solution.

Losing No. 2 starter Jorge De La Rosa to injury, of course, was a huge blow. He, Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel were carrying the rotation, providing lots of innings and putting Colorado in position to win a lot of games. But everyone was counting on Jiménez eventually rediscovering his All-Star form of a year ago, and Aaron Cook coming off the disabled list into a solid, dependable role.

But that equation doesn't work unless Jiménez can turn it around and win 10-12 games between now and the end of September.

Meanwhile, perhaps the time has come to bring back Ian Stewart from Colorado Springs for yet another try at third base. He would solve the defensive problem, without question. He entered this week hitting .326 for the Sky Sox, with 10 homers and 27 runs batted in over just 25 games. But he was a total disaster at the plate to start the season with the Rockies, going a horrific 3-for-48 (that computes to a .063 batting average). So can he put that memory behind him and finally earn the job? Colorado's season might depend on it.

Sure, there are other issues. Manager Jim Tracy has to decide who's his second baseman, hopefully Jonathan Herrera. The trio of Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton must continue to carry much of the load. The bullpen, which has been generally stable, must hold together.

But unless Ubaldo Jiménez and third base can be resolved in a good way, these Rockies will not be able to keep up with the Giants.

And that one dismal afternoon Sunday confirmed every reason why.

routon@csindy.com

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