After the final out of the regular season was registered, and the Rockies players walked around the warning track at Coors Field to say a special thanks to the fans for their support, the players gathered in the clubhouse to toast Charlie Blackmon’s claiming the NL batting title. Then Blackmon got a glance at his locker, where the ultimate stamp of approval for his accomplishment was hanging.
Carlos Gonzalez’s Game 162 jersey was hanging, the Rockies right fielder having autographed it, and on the No. 5 there was an inscription that acknowledge what Blackmon had accomplished over the course of the season.
“It’s a tradition,” said Gonzalez. “When I won the batting title in 2010 I came into the clubhouse and hanging in my locker were autographed jerseys from (Todd) Helton, (Troy) Tulowitzki and (Jason Giambi) congratulating me.”
So it was, Gonzalez took off the jersey he wore on Sunday, added the inscription and hung it in Blackmon’s locker.
“I did it last year with DJ (LeMahieu),” he said. “The jersey for Charlie is clean. I didn’t play today. DJ’s has some green across the front. I made a diving catch (last year).”
The hanging of the jersey is a relatively new tradition, but winning battle titles is nothing new for the Rockies. In their 25-season existence, nine Rockies players have won 11 batting titles, including Larry Walker, who won three. Four Rockies have claimed the NL batting title in the last five years.
Blackmon was more than a batting champion. He was an lead-off hitter who was a major factor in the offense. He did not just get on base and score runs. He was a big-time run producer. He set a Major League record with 103 RBI as a lead-off hitter, hit 37 home runs, which rank third all-time for a lead-off hitter, and set a record for a lead-off hitter with a .602 slugging percentage from the top spot.
|Charlie Blackmon||2017 Col||103||Brady Anderson||1996 Bal||0627||Alfonso Soriano||2006 Was||39|
|Darin Erstad||2000 Ana||100||Charlie Blackmon||2017 Col||.602||Alfonso Soriano||2002 NYY||38|
|Alfonso Soriano||2002 NYY||99||Hanley Ramirez||2007 Fla||.596||Charlie Blackmon||2017 Col||37|
|Nomar Garciaparra||1997 Bos||98||Paul Molitor||1987 Mil||.588||Brady Anderson||1996 Bal||35|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||2011 Bos||97||Alfonso Soriano||2006 Was||.588||Bobby Bonds||1973 SF||35|
|Brian Dozier||2017 Min||93||Rickey Henderson||1990 Oak||.579||Alfonso Soriano||2003 NYY||35|
|Johnny Damon||2004 Bos||91||Alfonso Soriano||2007 ChC||.579||Brian Dozier||2017 Min||34|
|Grady Sizemore||2008 Cle||90||Bobby Bonds||1975 NYY||.566||George Springer||2017 Hou||34|
|Craig Biggio||1998 Hou||88||Curtis Granderson||2007 Det||.565||Grady Sizemore||2008 Cle||33|
|Johnny Damon||2000 KC||88||Mike Trout||2012 LAA||.564||Alfonso Soriano||2007 ChC||33|
The season was a struggle for Gonzalez, who is a pending free agent. As late as Sept. 4 he was hitting .241 with only eight home runs and 41 RBI. In the final weeks of the season, however, he regained his presence as an impact player in the Rockies lineup, and a critical part of the Rockies late-season rebound to claim the first post-season berth since 2009, the fourth in the franchise’s 25-year history.
He was the most impactful player (minimum 86 plate appaerances) on the roster in September.
“I wasn’t going to call it quits, and shut down,” said Gonzalez. “For me there was too much to be done. It was not about being a free agent or hitting 30 home runs. It was about the special group of guys behind me. It was about staying focused on what we were trying to do as a team. I didn’t do anything differently.”
Well, nothing “differently” in terms of his approach to the game, but he did make changes in his approach to hitting. He regained a focus on using the entire field, getting away from a pull-heavy approach he had slipped into earlier in the season.
“That had been my approach, using all the field, but I got into some bad habits,” he said. “I stopped using the whole field and (with the overshift that teams were using) I would hit a ball up the middle, but the shortstop was standing behind second base and it was just an out.”
Gonzalez said the problem wasn’t a secret. There were constant conversations about his need to regain that opposite-field approach. It was a matter of him being able to go to home plate and carry out the plan. And finally, in September everything clicked.
“I got hot at the perfect time,” he said.”For me, this is my best season because I dealt with the struggle, and we made the post-season. That’s what is important, making the post-season.”
It was definitely a September to remember. His .377 average for the month was 98 points higher than nay other month this season.
The emergence of Gonzalez allowed manager Bud Black to slot him into the cleanup spot at times against right-handed pitchers and provide protection for Nolan Arenado. Arenado took another step forward in his career. He hit .300 for the first time, and became only the sixth third baseman in history to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 35 home run, the second Rockies third baseman. Vinny Castilla reached the totals in 1998.
|Eddie Mathews||1953 Mil||110||175||31||8||47||135||.302|
|Vinny Castilla||1998 Col||108||206||28||4||46||144||.319|
|Al Rosen||1953 Cle||115||201||27||5||43||145||.336|
|Ken Caminiti||1996 SD||109||178||37||2||40||130||.326|
|Nolan Arenado||2017 Col||100||187||43||7||37||130||.309|
|Matt Williams||1999 Ari||98||190||37||2||35||142||.303|