June 18-- DENVER-The big mystery afterward: Whodunit?
Who put the two-inch gash above Nolan Arenado's left eyeball? In the video room positioned across the hallway from a giddy Rockies clubhouse, the coaching staff replayed the dogpile like a never-ending GIF, over and over, to locate the source of the blood that caked Arenado's jersey, right alongside splotches of blue Gatorade and dirt. "Right there!" a coach shouted. "It was a helmet."
Charlie Blackmon's helmet, to be exact, is what sliced Arenado at ground zero of one of the craziest celebrations Coors Field has ever hosted. But what their stealth reconnaissance also unearthed is of far more importance: Nolan Arenado bleeds. He's not a baseball alien sent here to destroy pitching and smother line drives with a vacuum glove. He's human. I think.
"Thank God it went out," Arenado said after his first-pitch, three-run, walk-off home run landed in Section 153 and gave the Rockies goose bumps in a 7-5 win against the Giants.
That's not all, but the rest of what unfolded Sunday won't support the idea Arenado is, in fact, human. He left the diamond in this baseball town, after a curtain call, to chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" from a hysterical crowd of 48,341, the second sellout in a four-game sweep of San Francisco. To top off the "No. 1" moment in his baseball career, as Arenado put it, his homer off Golden High graduate Mark Melancon was the final piece to the cycle. Arenado singled in the fourth, doubled in the sixth and tripled in the first. His homer was gone the second it left the bat.
"That's the loudest I've ever heard this place," said Arenado, the first big-leaguer to clinch the cycle with a walk-off homer since Carlos Gonzalez on July 31, 2010.
The big mystery now: Who's better than Nolan Arenado? With Angels superstar Mike Trout on the shelf due to injury, it's a short list of position players you should take ahead of the 26-year-old third baseman, whose error Saturday was his first in 72 straight games, and whose bat seems to grow six inches in girth in the tightest, sweatiest moments. I can't name one whose highlights come in the field as often as they do at the plate. Can you?
Not Kris Bryant, whose National League MVP trophy is there for Arenado to take. Not Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Paul Goldschmidt. Fine choices all of them, but it's Arenado who is the ringleader of the best story in baseball. The Rockies are 46-26 and started to dream big a long time ago.
"Definitely," starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood said when asked if Arenado has his MVP vote. "We get to watch him every night, so we're spoiled. I think people are starting to recognize that with us winning a lot more games. But we've been able to see it for a while."
As much as Coors Field loves its favorite third baseman, the Giants loathe him just the same. Arenado slays the Giants. Three of his four career walk-offs have come against the Giants. His 92 hits, 20 home runs and 71 RBIs against the Giants are his most against any team. But none of those moments packed the weight of a performance that shoved the Rockies to a franchise-record ninth-straight win against the Giants.
Savvy observers visualized the potential in these Rockies over a year ago, as the young starting pitching continued to claw its way through the farm system, promising brighter days ahead. It was 4:24 p.m. on Sunday, June 18-Father's Day-when the Rox yanked the nonbelievers onto the bandwagon as well.
"The crowd in the ninth stayed. It was loud when we came off the field," manager Buddy Black said. "The guys heard it."
All Arenado needed was Blackmon on third and D.J. LeMahieu on first, a one-run deficit in the ninth, and a fastball down the middle.
"I think the fans around Denver are starting to get the hint," Arenado said. "We're for real."
The real discovery splattered across the left shoulder of a No. 28 jersey that someday will join Todd Helton's No. 17 above the right-field bullpen.
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