Friday, June 7, 2013

Nolan Arenado caps incredible night with walk-off home run to beat San Diego

Nolan Arenado looks nothing like a rookie.
Jeff Cirilo, Chris Stynes, Todd Zeile, Garrett Atkins, Ian Stewart.

Those are some of the guys who held down third base for the Colorado Rockies. Some lasted longer than others. Some, like Stewart, had higher expectations than others. Some, like Atkins, had flashes of greatness, but suddenly fell off the map.

Regardless of the story, after Vinny Castilla departed Colorado, the Rockies were in constant search mode for someone who could hold down the hot corner long-term and play the game at a high level.

Nolan Arenado is making a case that he is that guy. On Friday night he looked nothing like a guy playing his 38th game in the big leagues.

With the Rockies pitchers doing their best to turn a laugher into a stunner, twice blowing six-run leads, Arenado saved the game. But he didn't do it just once. He didn't do it twice. Three times he made phenomenal plays at third base that saved runs, and helped the Rockies get out of jams.

In the 5th inning, with speedy Cameron Maybin at the plate and runners at second and third base, Maybin drilled a grounder between third base and shortstop. Arenado dove to his left, snagged the ball and threw to first just in time to get Maybin at first base. The play saved a run and ended the inning.

In the 7th inning, following the Padres five run outburst with no outs that tied the game, the Padres had a chance to blow the game open in their favor. Carlos Quentin, who had already homered in the inning hit a sharp ground ball towards the third base line. Arenado snagged it, turned and fired to Todd Helton at first base to end the inning with the tie still in tact.

If twice wasn't good enough, Arenado did it again the following inning, robbing Maybin once again on a sharp ground ball.

After flashing the leather in the field, it was fitting that the highly touted rookie led off the bottom half of the 9th inning for the Rockies with the game all tied up at nine. With Dale Thayer slinging riding fastballs from the left side, Arenado got one on the barrel before it could get all the way across the plate. The instant the ball hit the bat everyone in the park knew the result. The ball ended up about six rows deep in the left-center field bleachers. The walk-off home run was the first of his young career, but Arenado certainly gives the feeling that it won't be his last.

The game was a classic Coors Field battle. Even when the Rockies were up 9-3, the game never felt comfortable. Jorge De La Rosa didn't have his best stuff and labored through five innings. When Scahill took the mound it felt like the Rockies were never going to get back to the dugout. Arenado's play over 30 minutes into the inning was the saving grace.

Arenado's Major League debut was perhaps the most highly anticipated. Ask Denver Post beat writer Troy Renck if there was any excitement surrounding the third baseman. After leading all of the minor leagues in RBIs in High-A Modesto in 2011 with 129, then followed that up by winning the Arizona Fall League MVP. Renck's Twitter feed was so full of questions about Arenado that he would have been smart to create an auto-reply.

Many times when a prospect has expectations surrounding him of that level, he falters and never hits his ceiling. It is still very early to determine the career path for Arenado, but he is certainly showing no signs of not being able to live up to the hype.

If Arenado proves to be the real deal, the Rockies will have unquestionably the best left side of the infield in the game. That could be said if both Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki were merely average hitters. However, they are both very capable at the plate. In fact, Arenado, despite some early regression, has shown good instincts at the plate. He isn't trying to do too much, he hits the ball to the opposite field, and he doesn't seem overwhelmed. Those are good signs for a rookie.

If Arenado becomes a force at the plate, coupled with Tulowitzki, who is a true MVP candidate, the Rockies will have an incredible infield both in the field and at the plate.

The Rockies 10-9 win was a fun one, but it was also almost a devastating loss. Arenado saved the day on Friday, but there is still work to be done for this team. They have struggled over the past month shutting teams down once the offense gives them a lead. At some point, they have to improve in that area or they will lose too many games that are winnable.

The fact is, however, this Rockies offense is very good. They are able to cover the issues that their pitching staff has.

The Rockies are good enough to make a serious run. They are good enough to compete in the National League West all the way to the end. This team isn't perfect, but the good aspects of the team are so good that they might be able to cover the faults that exist.

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