When you follow a team that's out of the playoff race in August, there are really only two reasons to watch: the first is to see exciting young players who will hopefully contribute to future success, and the second is the hope that something unexpected or amazing will happen. Without Jon Gray on the hill last night, the only real hope for a Rockies fan was the latter, and veteran slugger Carlos Gonzalez delivered something amazing, if not exactly unexpected.
With two outs, the bases loaded and the Rockies trailing 4-1 in the top of the eighth, CarGo hit a screaming line drive that was only just beginning to come down when it slammed into the back wall of the home bullpen over 400 feet away.
Many fans are familiar with having a "good feeling" that something is about to happen, and then being shocked when it actually happens. With Carlos Gonzalez these past two months it's been less of a feeling and more of an educated guess. I could make a killing as a psychic if all I had to do was predict whether or not he was going to hit a clutch home run.
Of his 23 homers on the season, thirteen have either tied the game or given the Rockies the lead, and ten of those thirteen have come in the sixth inning or later. It's the kind of clutch production that would be legendary if he was on the right team at the right time.
This is 1967 Carl Yastrzemski stuff here, folks. Every time the Rockies have needed a big hit, he's been there to deliver. Even in the middle of May, when he was struggling through the worst stretch of his career and hitting .188, he blasted a three run home run in the top of the ninth to lift the Rockies to a victory over the Dodgers that snapped an eleven game losing streak.
I believed (and still do) that the Troy Tulowitzki trade meant Carlos was on his way out in Denver, and I was disappointed to a degree when a deal couldn't be reached for him at the deadline. That said, watching him these last few months has been a true pleasure, and (if he can stay healthy) I will gladly accept another eight weeks of this kind of dominance.
More than anything, I now wish the Rockies had traded CarGo so that he could contribute to a contending team and get the chance to enjoy himself the way that Tulo has been in Toronto (where they still haven't lost with him in the lineup.)
I am now convinced, after two months of debating, that this is the real Carlos Gonzalez, and that what we saw in 2014 and earlier this year was just an injury-induced aberration. He is hitting better right now, at this moment, than he has at any point in his career. Appreciate this greatness while it lasts, however long that is. For the first time in years, I'm confident that he will hit huge postseason home runs in the future, whether it's for the Rockies or somebody else.
That brings me to one of the most exciting things about the home run, particularly the grand slam: It is the highest leverage play in all of sports. The Rockies' win expectancy went from 10% to 73% on one swing of the bat. An entire game's worth of failure by one side and dominance by the other was erased in an instant. Try to think of any other sport where one team can have four times as many runs/goals/points as the other and then one play later find themselves trailing and on the verge of defeat.
Though I don't know the rules intimately, I'm pretty sure cricket is the only answer to that question, and I'm not even positive about that. My point is that baseball presents very unique opportunities for amazing things to happen that just can't happen in other sports. If you're up 14-2 two-thirds of the way through a game, that does not necessarily mean you're going to win in baseball. There's no running out the clock; no building up a lead and sitting on it. While amazing and improbable comebacks happen in other sports, it takes a combination of unlikely events for it to happen. In football, you need to recover onside kicks and convert them into touchdowns. In basketball, you need to force turnovers, play shutdown defense and get hot shooting from the field. In hockey and soccer, you need to repeatedly do something very difficult (scoring a goal) in a short period of time, while not overextending yourself so much that you give up a goal yourself.
Coming back in other sports is like having to hit four consecutive home runs. It could happen, but the odds are extremely long. In baseball, all you have to do is get a walk or two and a seeing-eye single to set the table for your entire comeback to come in one play. The flip side of this high leverage situation is that you're left with nothing if you fail, and there's statistically a 72% chance that CarGo wouldn't have driven even one of the runs in, though I really doubt the odds were that long.
This was the most exciting Rockies grand slam I can remember since Sunday April 29, 2012. Some of you have heard me talk about this ad-nauseam, but I'll remind those of you who are unfamiliar.
Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the eighth against the New York Mets, the Rockies loaded the bases and Todd Helton was sent up to pinch-hit on his day off. He hit a towering shot off the second deck facade and tied the game, giving me one of my fondest in-person sports memories. The funny thing is that the Rockies eventually lost that game in extra innings, despite another game-tying home run (from a certain Carlos Gonzalez). That fact didn't matter to me then, and it doesn't now. I had seen something amazing that I would never forget.
The same would have been true tonight. Even if Tommy Kahnle or John Axford had gone on to blow the game, CarGo still would have given us something to marvel at in a time when we desperately needed it as fans. Before he hit that grand slam I was dreading the thought of writing about this game, which was a 4-1 snooze-fest headlined by Kyle Parker's error in the outfield and Jordan Zimmermann's complete dominance of the Rockies, and now I just wrote about a thousand words without really trying.
The game of baseball is a beautiful and devious thing. It can simultaneously rip the heart out of the fans of a team scrapping for a playoff spot, while lifting the spirits of the downtrodden fanbase of a perennial loser. A game can drag on for hours without anything happening before a single moment delivers more excitement than you previously thought possible.
Lost in my poetic waxing is the fact that 24 year-old Nolan Arenado made some truly spectacular plays in the field (like that's anything unusual), and Tommy Kahnle celebrated his 26th birthday by striking out three time All-Star Bryce Harper with the tying run on first to end the game and earn his first MLB save. Harper will turn 23 in October. The old game is still full of youth, not to mention joy and surprises.