Tulowitzki, Gonzalez push Rockies back
DENVER – Fourteen seasons in, more than 1,900 games in, Todd Helton(notes) late Wednesday afternoon pondered for a moment the question: Had he seen many guys as hot as the one standing right over there?
He glanced across the clubhouse, the bags packed for L.A. and more rigor, the life in a room of players that had so obviously needed to win a ballgame and had. His eyes returned.
“We talking about Tulo?” he said. “Or Gonzo?”
Long about two weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies barged into a two-team game for the National League West championship, the way they sometimes do in September. Further ago, they’d come back from 11 games and their various explanations for why it wasn’t working to this, to a game they believed they had to win, to riding a couple ballplayers in their mid-20s who suddenly can hardly miss a pitch.
Troy Tulowitzki(notes), who’d lost six weeks of summer to a chip fracture in his wrist, had just bashed two more home runs and driven in seven runs (all in the first four innings against the San Diego Padres) and came within “an inch,” manager Jim Tracy said – “A quarter of a centimeter,” Helton countered – of a third home run and three more RBIs.
In 14 games since the first of September, Tulowitzki has 11 home runs, 27 RBIs and a .386 batting average. The Rockies are 2½ games behind the Padres and, failing that, 2½ behind the faltering Atlanta Braves for the NL wild card.
“The game’s not that easy,” Tulowitzki insisted.
Carlos Gonzalez(notes), who bats third and just ahead of Tulowitzki, had two more hits Wednesday (and two more RBIs), his fourth consecutive multi-hit game. Though he’s spent the past week with right wrist tendinitis he says, “Only hurts when I’m hitting,” his September has brought a .474 batting average and 15 RBIs. He appears to have adjusted his swing, trying not to roll his wrists so violently through impact.
“It takes only one bad swing,” he said, adding with a smile, “so I just try to be perfect. I have to keep going for the team. I think I’ll be able to finish.”
So, yeah, we’re talking Tulo and Gonzo.
“I don’t know if there’s a better three-four in baseball,” Padres manager Bud Black said.
What remains is just how long they can stay this hot, and if it will keep working on the road – where only the Pirates, Nationals and Diamondbacks have fewer wins in the NL – and if the Rockies have another one of those finishing kicks in them. Because the Padres came to Coors Field and won two games before losing Wednesday’s, 9-6, the series momentarily stemming what was beginning to look like a nasty late swoon.
Maybe it was the altitude – OK, probably it was the altitude – but Black’s band of SoCal grinders seemed to find its stroke against the Rockies. After batting .247 and averaging barely four runs a game through 142 games, the Padres jumped aboard Adrian Gonzalez(notes) (five hits, five RBIs), Miguel Tejada(notes) (seven hits, five RBIs) and one very big pinch homer from Matt Stairs(notes) to bat .309 and score 19 runs in three games here.
Afterward, the Padres packed for the NL Central, against which they are 23-7, explaining why they’d arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday night still leading a division in which six months ago they were uniformly picked to finish last. It’s been about the pitching, of course, and they can’t escape suspicions their offense will betray them one day soon, and for good.
“If we score four or five runs a game the rest of the way,” Adrian Gonzalez said, “we’re going to win the division. If we just score runs we’re going to be good.”
This is, alas, the NL West, where strange happens, where pitching a one-hitter doesn’t necessarily mean a win, where divorces take out franchises at the knees, and where the summer of Padres love threatens to become the fall of Troy.
When Tulowitzki came off the disabled list in late July, he hit one home run in two weeks and three in five weeks. Slowly, first in batting practice and then at 7 p.m., his wrist grew stronger, and his trust in it deepened. Rather than push the ball into right and right-center fields, he began to attack, and roll his wrists. Of his 11 home runs in two weeks, 10 have disappeared into left- and center-field bleachers.
“When I first came back,” he said, “I knew my power wasn’t there. Now, I’m picking my counts and I’m taking my shots.”
He is, again, a man who can carry a race, or parts of it.
“I’ve seen guys in home-run streaks but definitely not as easy as he’s making it look,” Helton said. “It’s effortless. You see guys hitting home runs and they’re up there grunting and stuff. He’s up there barely swinging and the ball’s going a mile.”
Adrian Gonzalez is no pitcher, but he has a strategy for pitching to Gonzalez and Tulowitzki.
“Throw them balls,” he said. “Take your chances with the two and five guys. Bases loaded, walk them, take the two runs, and get the double play out of the fifth guy.”
“Seriously,” he said.