Gonzalez's walk-off homer completes cycle
Outfielder blasts first pitch of Rockies' ninth into upper deck
DENVER -- They call him the little pony.
Anointed as such by his teammates last season, Carlos Gonzalez has a pink horse figurine in his clubhouse locker next to a photo of him posing next to a pony in his Rockies uniform.
But to the Rockies, the outfielder has become the horse they're hoping to ride all the way back to the playoffs.
Gonzalez, a vital piece of the puzzle the Rockies stood pat on through a bevy of trade rumors this week, capped a historic Saturday night by hitting a walk-off solo homer into the upper deck at Coors Field to put an exclamation point on the game in which Gonzalez hit for the cycle and the Rockies beat the Cubs, 6-5.
"Little theater involved in that one," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said afterward with a wry smile.
Such moments are saved for screenplays and fantasies. Gonzalez -- along with a sellout crowd of 48,065 -- will be pinching himself about that moment for some time.
"It was just magic," said Gonzalez, who suddenly finds himself amid a race for the National League batting title with a .321 average. "I never thought I'd finish the game with a home run and finish with the cycle."
Gonzalez had already established himself as a Cub-killer, going 19-for-34 against Chicago in his career. He had already singled, tripled and doubled in his first three at-bats. "I think we've seen enough of Mr. Gonzalez," said Cubs acting manager Alan Trammell, sitting in as Lou Piniella mourns a death in his family.
All he needed was a homer. And a fastball.
He got both.
"It's safe to say he was looking for something firm early in the count," Tracy said. "It showed up, it was elevated and it was over the middle of the plate."
The left fielder, left off the NL All-Star roster this season, leads the league with a .383 home batting average and the Rockies in nearly all offensive categories.
But the lefty was very nearly robbed of his opportunity. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel was excellent for 7 1/3 innings before giving way with one out and two on in the eighth. Rafael Betancourt took the hill and recorded a strikeout before surrendering a three-run blast to Derrek Lee, which tied the game at 5.
Huston Street pitched a perfect ninth to set up the ending. Cubs reliever Sean Marshall allowed five earned runs in Friday's 17-2 drubbing, but Trammell said he went with the lefty because of the matchups.
"He's the guy in the lineup we didn't want to beat us, and I went in and challenged him and he beat us," Marshall said.
The first-pitch fastball stayed over the heart of the plate, and Gonzalez hammered the no-doubter 462 feet into the third deck of the Coors Field seats.
"Big-time players show up in big-time moments," Street said. "To hit a walk-off home run and seal the deal on your cycle -- cycles don't happen. They don't happen in baseball. ... He's just that good, and he's an exciting player."
The cycle was the sixth in Rockies history and first since shortstop Troy Tulowitzki did it on Aug. 10, 2009. It was the first time a Major Leaguer clinched a cycle with a walk-off homer since Dwight Evans did it for the Red Sox on June 28, 1984.
Colorado, a team known historically to catch fire and go on streaks of epic proportions at the drop of a hat, has quickly won three straight. After failing to score more than four runs during an eight-game losing streak that ended earlier this week, the Rockies have compiled 32 runs in their past three games.
It's further proof that Colorado, neither selling nor buying at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, knows how to piece its current parts together for a winning model. How the Rockies win, however, has become a different story.
"Storybook," Hammel said. "It's huge for our momentum. ... It's that funny game of baseball showing up where, sometimes, things don't click. Right now, they are."
Joey Nowak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.