PITTSBURGH – One at-bat, one pitch, one day at a time. The Colorado Rockies have learned to slow down and not focus on anything but the next task ahead.
So far, it's working.
Seth Smith drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning, Colorado's bullpen was nearly flawless and the Rockies kept up their strong start with a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday to take three of four in their first road series this season.
The Rockies' 6-2 start is their second-best in franchise history. If not for two extra-inning losses, they'd be unbeaten.
"We're solid, it doesn't matter if we play at home or on the road," said closer Huston Street, who got his fourth save with a perfect ninth. "We expect to win."
A year ago, the Rockies collapsed down the stretch. Sitting at 82-66 on Sept. 18, they were poised for a playoff appearance before going 1-13 and finishing third in the NL West. During the slide, Colorado dropped its last eight road games.
It was a tough, humbling lesson for a team that could be on the verge of putting something special together.
"There is that sense of purpose that we don't want to give up one day," said Street, wrapped from shoulder to knee in ice. "We've learned that over the course of the last two years how important those days, especially in April and May, show up in September.
"I love our approach. It's a humble, fighting, grinding approach. We've got a lot of talent."
Smith, who had an RBI single in Colorado's four-run first, drew his two-out walk from Mike Crotta (0-1) in the seventh. Crotta walked three of the four batters he faced and gave up a tying RBI single in the inning to Jason Giambi.
"Tough day, just didn't execute my pitches; that's my job," Crotta said. "It's tough to get outs when you walk people. There's eight guys out there and if they put it in play, chances are they hit it at somebody. If you walk a guy, nobody's there to help you."
Jose Lopez hit a three-run homer in the first for the Rockies, who have been alone in first in the NL West five straight days for the first time since 2006.
Last season, the Rockies were awful on the road, posting a 31-50 record they would like to reverse in 2011.
As their jerseys and bats were packed for a trip to New York, the three wins they picked up at PNC Park may have been the best items stashed.
"There were a lot of things we didn't do well on the road last year," manager Jim Tracy said. "So we went back to the drawing board in spring training and brought up bullet points as far as 31-50 — why did it happen? We have certainly addressed some things. We've done a better job of executing and hopefully we'll take it along with us and take us to a better place."
Jhoulys Chacin (2-0) allowed four earned runs and seven hits in six innings as Colorado's starters improved to 5-0 this season. But they wouldn't be unblemished if not for the Rockies relievers. Felipe Paulino, Matt Reynolds, Matt Lindstrom and Street combined for three hitless, scoreless innings.
"Our bullpen was terrific," said Tracy, who had to be creative the past two days after using eight pitchers in Friday's 14-inning loss.
The Rockies appeared on their way to an easy win, scoring four in the first off Pittsburgh starter James McDonald, who managed to stay around until the seventh. But Colorado's bats went dead, a problem that plagued the Rockies too often last season.
Lyle Overbay had two RBIs and Jose Tabata extended his hitting streak to 10 games for the Pirates (5-5), who are back to .500 after opening the season by winning four of six on the road, a start that had Pittsburgh fans hoping this squad could finally end 18 straight losing years.
"We're all right," Overbay said. "That's a very good team over there. They've got some good players. We just got into a situation where we didn't continue hitting. We didn't get that killer instinct."
Trailing 4-0 after one, the Pirates caught the Rockies by scoring three in the third and passed them with an unearned run in the fourth.
McDonald has had success against Colorado, recording three of his nine career wins against the Rockies.
But whatever comfort the right-hander had against them wasn't evident in the first when he struggled with his control, and the Rockies pounced with Lopez's second homer, a shot into the left-field seats that dropped the Pirates into a 4-0 hole.
NOTES: Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez threw a bullpen session without any trouble. Tracy said Jimenez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a cut finger cuticle, will next pitch in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 13. ... The Pirates finally get a day off Monday. They were the only team in the majors to play the season's first 10 days without a break. ... Colorado has outscored its opponents 14-1 in the first. ... Rockies LF Carlos Gonzalez didn't start because of flulike symptoms. He grounded into a double play as a pinch-hitter in the ninth.