Shouts of “M-V-P!” rose above the splatters of champagne and beer late into Saturday night in the Rockies clubhouse. At the center of the bouncing pack of players, his head bowed and his hair dripping with booze, was Charlie Blackmon.
On a team that includes two National League most valuable player candidates, including all-star Gold Glove third baseman Nolan Arenado, Blackmon rose to be the players’ choice. On Sunday, after his line drive single to right field in the third inning off Dodgers reliever Edward Paredes, Blackmon locked up the National League batting title.
It was not really in doubt. Blackmon finished with a .331 batting average while the Dodgers’ Justin Turner closed at .322.
But Blackmon’s value comes from more than his hitting. On a Rockies team that will play in its first postseason since 2009, he is their stoic, steely-eyed centerfielder, the player always focused on the next pitch, never stuck on yesterday, a hitter who rarely goes quietly.
“Charlie is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Arenado said.
On Saturday, the Rockies clinched a postseason berth about an hour before they faced the Dodgers after Milwaukee lost to St. Louis. The party started early at Coors Field. But Blackmon sat in his corner, wrapping his wrists and running through scouting reports.
“He’s so funny,” Arenado said. “We’re like, ‘Dude, we’re in already, it’s all good bro, we did this.’ But that’s Charlie. He’s an intense guy. That’s probably why he got two hits and I struck out ugly in my first at-bat.”
Blackmon’s batting title followed DJ LeMahieu‘s from last season. The Rockies have won four of the past five batting titles.
Arenado’s 130 RBIs were two shy of Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton for the NL lead. With Blackmon, LeMahieu and Carlos Gonzalez, they form the offensive spine of a Rockies run toward Wednesday’s one-game wild card playoff at Arizona.
“This is what we’ve been working for for a long time,” Blackmon said. “It’s what you dream about as a kid. We were just asking for a chance. We just sneaked in under the wire, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest. We took a lot of steps forward as a team this year and that’s why we’re where we are.”
Gonzalez, who suffered through his worst season since a rookie year in 2008, is the only remaining player from the Rockies last playoff team, in 2009. Colorado sprinted to the top of the NL West early this season and held the spot as late as June 1, but if Gonzalez wasn’t necessary to their early rise, he was needed at the end. He rebounded over the final month, hitting .377 (29-for-77) in September with a major league high .484 on-base percentage.
And the Rockies appear to be peaking at the plate in time for the postseason. Their .792 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is best in the National League in September.
“This is the best year of my life,” Gonzalez said. “In ’09, I started the season in Triple-A. I got the chance to play when (manager) Jim Tracy gave me the opportunity. But I was a young guy trying to survive. Now, it doesn’t matter who is out there. Everybody is getting the job done. It didn’t take CarGo hitting 40 or 50 home runs to get to the postseason. We have a great team, top to bottom.”
By Nick Groke