DENVER -- If you've gotta win -- and there was absolutely no question Wednesday was a must-win game for the Colorado Rockies -- lining up with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki as your Nos. 3 and 4 hitters is a luxury better than a large inheritance and a Ferrari sale.
"That's quite a dynamic we've developed there," Colorado manager Jim Tracy, weary and hoarse and nursing a cold, rasped following the Rockies' 9-6 pick-me-up over NL West-leading San Diego. "It's like the Cardinals situation with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Pick your poison.
"That's not to say [the choice] is going to be right, but pick your poison. That's a beautiful thing to have."
|Troy Tulowitzki continues to slug with a hot stick, having hit 11 home runs ... in September. (Getty Images)|
Pick your poison? How's this for the cyanide tablets laying in front of Padres manager Bud Black in the dugout on a hot and sunny Denver afternoon:
Tulowitzki smashed a three-run homer in the third inning.
He smashed a three-run homer in the fourth inning.
Already, he had scorched an RBI single in the first and was sitting on a career-high-tying seven RBI.
So in the Rockies' eighth, with one out and one on, Black, looking to keep the 9-6 game close for one last ninth-inning stab, opted to ... intentionally walk Gonzalez to face Tulowitzki.
"Isn't that incredible?" Black marveled later, alone in his office, plane to St. Louis awaiting, gazing in wonder at what this game will make a guy do.
"You've got Gonzalez. You've got Tulowitzki. You've got one out. You've gotta face one of them, right? So we decided to put right-hander on right-hander [Ernesto Friere against Tulowitzki] there.
"Those are two of the best three-four hitters in the game. And they're just on fire."
Yeah, these Padres couldn't get themselves and their division lead out of town quick enough.
Gonzalez settled in Wednesday afternoon leading the NL in batting (.340), tied for first in RBI (104) and tied for fourth in homers (32).
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Tulowitzki ranked second in batting (.322) and in the Rockies' clubhouse, at least, first in weapons you want to fire when the autumn chill is approaching a little too rapidly. As it was after the Padres had taken the first two games of this series to push the Rockies to 3½ games back in the West.
"This guy is as competitive a baseball player as I've ever seen," Tracy said. "There was nobody more aware of the situation and what was needed to be done today than him.
"You could tell from his first at-bat he took, we were not losing today. [It was] 'I'm not going to let us lose today.'"
"I wish I could control that, have that much confidence," Tulowitzki said. "But this game is not that easy."
In most states, you couldn't legally do what Tulowitzki's done lately without a business license and several special permits. Tulowitzki has crushed 11 home runs in his past 13 games.
In 15 September games, he's hitting .361 with 11 homers, 27 RBI, three doubles and one triple. That would be impressive enough had he not gone 0 for 4 against the Giants on Sept. 1. So, make those power numbers over 14 September games.
The guy always has been capable of wreaking the sort of destruction normally available only by viewing The Weather Channel during storm season. By the time he was finished with Padres starter Clayton Richard, against whom his first three-run homer and his RBI single came, Tulowitzki had run his lifetime numbers against Richard to 7 for 12 (.583) with three homers and four walks.
But this also is a guy who missed 33 games earlier this season with a chip fracture in his left wrist. Those September numbers? Though Tulowitzki returned on July 27, his wrist didn't feel fully functional until about two weeks ago, when fly balls that were traveling to the outfield in batting practice began dropping on the other side of the fence.
Though Evan Longoria, his buddy and former Cal State Long Beach teammate, suffered a similar injury in 2008 and they talked about it at this year's All-Star Game (Tulowitzki attended even though his hand was in a cast), Tulowitzki still was in foreign territory.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "Every day was a new challenge. Some days, I felt great. Some days, it was back to square one."
Though the Rockies were thrilled when he returned, Tulowitzki described himself as "timid" at the plate for the longest time, unsure of how his wrist would respond. Tracy said he first thought the real Tulowitzki was back when his shortstop got "inside of the ball" a couple of times when rival pitchers tried to work him in.
"You knew full well it would be trial and error until he was convinced in his own mind that he can let this thing go," Tracy said.
The Rockies have leaned on Tulowitzki since his rookie season in 2007, when he emerged as a clubhouse leader. Padres reliever Cesar Ramos, Tulowitzki's teammate and roommate at Long Beach State for three years, saw the same thing happen back then.
"He's had that since Day 1 when he stepped onto the Long Beach State campus," Ramos said. "There were all older guys, and we've got this 18-year-old kid taking charge. And the thing with him is, he backs it up on the field."
What he's doing now is simply stunning.
"Are we talking Tulo, or CarGo?" asked Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, in need of clarification when someone approached him about recent exploits of Colorado's slugger.
Fair question despite Tulowitzki's seven-RBI day. Gonzalez this month is hitting .474 with three homers and 15 RBI.
"I've seen guys in home run streaks before, but definitely not where they were making it look as easy as he's making it look," Helton said. "It looks effortless. ... It looks like he's barely swinging and the ball's going a mile.
"It's pretty cool to watch."
Unless you're stuck on the mound staring in at him.
Which was the case for poor Frieri in the eighth after he intentionally walked Gonzalez.
"Crazy," Helton said of the walk."Then Tulo hits a bullet that, but for a quarter of a centimeter, would have been another home run."
Tracy mentioned the same thing, that Tulowitzki hit it "too square", that had he stroked the ball just a smidge below where he did, it would have rocketed out of the park for homer No. 3.
As it was, the Rockies didn't need that third home run.
As it turned out, on this day, they made do with Tulowitzki's seven RBI ... and two from CarGo.
Now, the real fun begins.
The Rockies embark upon a six-game trip to Dodger Stadium and Arizona, and they play 10 of their final 16 games on the road -- where they are an abysmal 29-42.
But they're got three games left with the Giants -- in Coors Field -- who are two games ahead of them in both the division and in the wild-card standings. And the team atop the wild-card standings, Atlanta, is fading.
"The team that plays the best at home and on the road over the course of the next two-and-a-half weeks is going to win the Western Division," Tracy rasped. "It's that simple.
"The neat thing for us is that we don't have to look around and wonder. We still have an opportunity to take care of our own business."