PHOENIX — The slump began in the spring and lingered deep into summer, but Carlos Gonzalez never lost faith in himself, nor in his ability to help carry the Rockies toward the playoffs.
All he needed, he kept insisting, was time to iron out some mechanical flaws in his pretty swing. It took longer than anyone thought, but CarGo has returned.
Gonzalez mashed a pair of two-run homers Tuesday night, powering the Rockies to an important 4-2 victory over Arizona at Chase Field. Gonzalez was assisted by starter Jon Gray, who pitched seven strong innings, giving up two runs on seven hits. Gray whiffed 10, didn’t walk anyone and improved to 8-4.
“There was no reason to lose faith, because I had everybody’s support,” said Gonzalez after the 20th career multi-homer game of his career. “I had the fans, my manager, my teammates, my family, all of them have been there for me.
“We (players) always keep our heads up. This is a tough league, a tough sport, and like I’ve told you before, I know how it feels to be a great player and I know how it feels to be a bad player. This game will always keep you humble.”
With usual closer Greg Holland unavailable, having pitched three of the last four games, the Rockies turned to right-hander Scott Oberg to pitch four outs and left-hander Chris Rusin to nail down the final two. Oberg gave up a double to J.D. Martinez in the ninth, but Rusin hushed the rally to pick up his second save this season, and just the second save of his career.
Gonzalez’s second homer broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh. DJ. LeMahieu beat the Diamondbacks’ extreme shift by hitting a single to left center, setting the stage for Gonzalez. He plastered reliever David Hernandez’s 2-1 curveball deep into the right-field seats for his 12th homer of the season.
“CarGo has worked hard the entire season, trying to find his groove,” manager Bud Black said. “Hopefully now, where we are, in arguably the most important month of the year, if he finds his swing and finds his groove, that’s a great thing for the Rockies.”
Colorado’s sixth straight victory (and eighth consecutive road victory) moved it within three games of the Diamondbacks for the National League’s top wild card. The two teams chasing the Rockies (80-65) for the second wild-card spot both won Tuesday. St. Louis (76-68), winners of eight of its last 10, routed Cincinnati 13-4 to remain 3½ behind the Rockies. Milwaukee (76-69) beat Pittsburgh 5-2 to stay within four games of Colorado.
Gonzalez’s fix was not a quick one, but it had simple roots. He had fallen into a habit of wrapping his hands around the barrel of the bat. That is, putting the barrel in the palm of his hand instead of using his fingers to control the bat.
“I was doing it unconsciously,” Gonzalez said of wrapping the bat. “For some reason this year, I was wrapping the bat again.”
Now he’s back to hitting like a three-time all-star. Gonzalez is batting .429 (15-for-35) with seven doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs over his last 12 games.
“I think about two weeks ago, all of us, including myself and the coaching staff, saw some swings during the course of games that led us to believe that he was getting closer,” Black said. “The balls away from him, CarGo was hammering to left. (With) the soft stuff, he was staying back and hammering balls to right. He was getting to inside fastballs, and he was taking borderline pitches that earlier he was swinging at. His selectivity improved.”
Gonzalez’s once-again-sweet swing put the Rockies on the board in the third. With Charlie Blackmon on first after drawing a walk, Gonzalez launched a two-run, no-doubt homer to right-center off Arizona starter Taijuan Walker.
Martinez woke up the quiet desert crowd with a loud homer off Gray to lead off the second. Martinez rocketed Gray’s 1-0, 96 mph fastball 447 feet to dead center to give the D-backs a 1-0 lead. Martinez, who began the season in Detroit before being traded to Arizona, has hit 38 home runs this season to tied his career high. Over his last 10 games, he’s batting .455, with nine home runs, four doubles and 18 RBIs.
“He’s really hot right now, but I’m just fortunate it was a solo shot,” Gray said. “I just knew I had to lock it in from there and move on. … I thought I got stronger as the game wore on and I was able to attack from both sides of the plate. That felt great to be able to do that.”
Arizona tied the game 2-2 in the third, stringing together a single by Walker, a single by David Peralta and a sacrifice fly by Jake Lamb to score Walker. The inning could have been much worse for Gray, but he got the dangerous Paul Goldschmidt to line out to shortstop Trevor Story, who doubled up Peralta at second for a double play.
All in all, it was a step forward for Gray, who mixed a hopping fastball with an effective curve and slider, improving to 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his last four starts.
“I thought, all night long, from his first pitch to his last, the Jon was, at times, overpowering,” Black said. ‘I thought he had a great fastball tonight, a hard slider to both sides of the plate, and he mixed in a curveball.
“He had really powerful right-handed stuff. Jon’s a big boy, he’s from Oklahoma, and he turns it loose. It was great to see. I think Jon’s confidence is growing with every outing.”
Gray had help from Gerardo Parra in left field, who made two great catches, including tracking down Goldschmidt’s high drive to the wall in the first inning.