DENVER -- To say the Rockies and Yankees series was a tight one would be a gross understatement. They played as close as two coats of paint, with the Rockies' quality pitching rising to the occasion and holding New York to six runs in three games, but with Colorado's offense in a funk, the Yankees prevailed, 3-1, on Thursday to take the series.
Despite a 2-4 homestand, the Rockies' 19-15 record six weeks into the season kept them from frustration's fangs. A well-played series with the Yankees offered plenty of fodder for a team eager to show it can match up with any team in baseball, and for players who believe the clichés about being competitive and having a chance to win, the mid-week series was full of little victories. But for those focused on the ultimate results, little victories don't add up to wins.
"Our pitching was outstanding, and our offense was definitely subpar, not acceptable," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "We've had some guys cool off at the same time. It's been tough to string hits together and string productive at bats together."
The Yankees got on the board early, taking advantage of Jeff Francis' one-out walk in the first to Jayson Nix. Robinson Cano advanced Nix with a groundout to second, and Vernon Wells brought him home with a single to right, giving the Yankees a one-run lead before Colorado's first hacks.
"We just did a lot of little things right," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "When we had opportunities to score, we did. There weren't a lot of runs scored in Colorado. I can't imagine people would have predicted that here."
The Rockies came back in their half of the inning, parlaying a free pass to leadoff man Eric Young Jr. into a manufactured run. Dexter Fowler grounded into a fielder's choice and went to third on Troy Tulowitzki's single to right. Carlos Gonzalez hit a shallow fly to left and Fowler narrowly beating the tag at the plate to tie up the game.
It was Tulowitzki's first start after two days on the bench, and he wasted no time showing his value in the middle of the lineup.
"I felt good," Tulowitzki said, promising he'll definitely be in Friday's lineup in St. Louis. "The rest, now that I look back on it, it was probably needed. I felt like a different player out there. I was moving a lot better, more myself. That was very encouraging."
Tulowitzki's single was the only hit Colorado recorded off Yankees starter CC Sabathia. The veteran left-hander retired the next 11 batters he faced, completing his third consecutive one-two-three inning just as the rain forced a one-hour and 59-minute rain delay with the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead.
"CC's obviously been good for a long time," Tulowitzki said. "He throws strikes. He doesn't have the stuff he once did. He would probably say that, velocity-wise. He's pitching a little bit different from what I saw, but he's still very effective and he still finds a way to get it done."
Francis pitched through traffic in each of his four innings, putting a couple of runners on in every inning except his last, when the Yankees pushed another run across after former Rockie Chris Nelson led off with a double down the left-field line. Lyle Overbay moved him over to third with a grounder to second and Chris Stewart brought him home with a sacrifice fly to center.
"I executed some good pitches," Francis said. "They did a good job manufacturing the run off the leadoff double in the fourth inning. Broken-bat single scores a run in the first. It's a good team. We expected more out of ourselves this series. We just have to make sure we do better."
Reliever Adam Ottavino picked up the baton from Francis after the skies cleared and play resumed, getting two quick outs in the top of the fifth before watching Cano drive an offering into the right-field bullpen for his ninth home run, giving the Yankees a wafer-thin margin of error as they protected a two-run lead through the final five innings.
Colorado threatened in the seventh, with Wilin Rosario lacing a leadoff single to left. Nolan Arenado hit a hard comebacker to the mound that Warren converted into a double play to keep New York out of a big inning. Jordan Pacheco and Josh Rutledge rallied with back-to-back two-out singles, but pinch-hitter Todd Helton chased a slider low and outside of the strike zone to end the inning.
"With runners in scoring position, we didn't swing the bat as well as we'd like," Helton said. "It's a tough day. The weather's been an issue. You can make plenty of excuses. Sitting around all day. But the bottom line is they're all excuses, and we didn't get the job done."
To their credit, the club is taking its lumps in stride. It's an admirable quality in a team trying to turn itself around after a dismal season, though it can be a fine line between self-confidence and complacence.
"You reach ruts as offensive players, and you just got to go out and keep swinging," Fowler said after extending his own funk to 0-for-14. "I'm taking good at-bats, walking still, still getting on base."
The challenge the Rockies face is to keep playing tight games without their players feeling tight and pressing. Tulowitzki likes what he sees of the club's evolving character, even if the only hard evidence of a team coming into its own is its record -- four games over .500 after never being more than a game over .500 in all of 2012.
"We're starting to believe that we're a good team," Tulowitzki said. "No one said this thing was going to be easy. There's going to be a few bumps in the road. It's going to take all the way to the end if we're going to be successful."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.