The day begins with a man bundled up like a polar explorer riding a lawn mower around an already-manicured outfield while another man pounds the dirt around home plate and another carefully unwraps the pitcher’s mound.
It ends with the man whose Twitter handle is @Chuck_Nazty putting himself in the baseball history books, the Rockies’ fifth starter of the year showing the first four how it’s done and the most beautiful swing in the game launching a ball so high and far it almost crashed the party in a string of drinking houses now occupying the previously uncharted third level in right field.
They shook, they rattled, they rolled. You could almost hear Big Joe Turner.
“Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better,” manager Walt Weiss said.
The Rockies lost three of their first four in Miami to a team not expected to do much this year. They hit adequately, but not in the clutch, and pitched poorly. It looked a lot like last year. Neither the batting order nor the pitching staff looked anywhere near as good as the spring previews of coming attractions.
So the traditional pilgrimage to 20th and Blake for the home opener carried a certain trepidation that all the offseason optimism was manufactured, a product of our pitiful wistfulness, sure to be dashed again. Then Charlie Blackmon, a.k.a. Nazty, doubled to lead off the first and scored on a Michael Cuddyer single to give the Rocks a 1-0 lead.
“I was just happy to get a hit,” he said afterward. “You go in there, you’re like, all right, first inning, you’re leading off, like, I’m just trying to jump-start the offense. Usually, I’m just trying to get a hit. And if I get one hit, come out and try and get two hits. And you just take it from there.”
He came out and got two hits in the third, singling and coming around to score, along with Cuddyer, on a triple down the right field line by Carlos Gonzalez.
Blackmon homered to right in the fourth, a no-doubter driving in D.J. LeMahieu as well. This made it 6-0 and Nazty got a little cocky.
The next time he came to bat, with the score 6-1, he doubled to the opposite field leading off the sixth, his fourth consecutive hit. On the first subsequent pitch, to Cuddyer, Blackmon took off for third. There are a number of reasons one might have advised him not to do this. One would be the old baseball rule, never make the first out of an inning at third base. You’re already in scoring position at second and the meat of your batting order is coming up. Another would be that the meat of your batting order consists of Cuddyer, CarGo and Troy Tulowitzki.
Anyway, he takes off on the first pitch from lefty Joe Thatcher. Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero fires the ball to third. Third baseman Martin Prado catches it and lays his glove, wrapped around the ball, in front of the bag. This allows Blackmon to tag himself out by sliding into it. Which he does, pinning Prado’s glove against the base with his spikes and forcing him from the game with a bleeding hand. That steal attempt is the only reason Blackmon wasn’t on base for CarGo’s 457-foot rocket to right. Otherwise, he would have scored five runs instead of four.
Of course, by then it was academic. The score was 8-1. It would become 10-1 in the seventh, when Blackmon’s single to right, his fifth hit, drove in pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes, one of the alleged contenders for the center field job Blackmon wants, who had just gotten his first hit in six tries on the young season, a triple to right-center.
It didn’t look as though Blackmon would get a sixth plate appearance. The Rocks had two out and nobody on in their half of the eighth. Two batters remained before the lineup got back up to Blackmon. But LeMahieu and Barnes both walked and here came Chuck Nazty one more time.
He lifted a slicing drive down the left-field line, where nobody plays a left-handed hitter. It dropped just inside the line and presto, hit No. 6 and double No. 3.
“I didn’t even know where it went when I hit it,” Blackmon said. “So you know you’re having a good day when you just kind of hit a ball and it ends up two inches inside the line. Just one of those days.”
That drove in the last two of the Rocks’ runs in a 12-2 romp that joined a list of memorable Colorado openers including EY’s leadoff homer in the inaugural, Dante’s walkoff in Coors Field’s debut and a Clint Barmes walkoff that briefly awoke Rockies fans in 2005.
“He’ll be in there tomorrow,” Weiss said when asked about a revolving door in center field that also includes Barnes, Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson in the season’s early going. “I talked about it a lot this spring. Charlie did a heck of a job for us last year — the last month of the season, played really well. Those guys are all going to play. All of them bring something to the party. But Charlie’s done a great job last year and he’s off to a great start already this year.”
Through five games, Blackmon is batting .563 with a slugging percentage of .938 and an OPS . . . oh, never mind. He staked a claim to that job, though. CarGo said twice he thought Blackmon has proved he deserves to be an everyday player.
“Baseball’s funny,” Blackmon said. “As good as today was, I could be just as bad tomorrow. So I’m not going to try and get too excited about it. That’s the beauty of baseball — good or bad, you’ve got to come out the next day, completely forget what you did the day before and try and win a baseball game. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
While Blackmon was becoming the first (and only other) Rockies player to put up six hits in a game since Andres Galarraga in 1995, the fifth pitcher to start a game this season, Juan Nicasio, was correcting the first four. With Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood out with injuries, Nicasio isn’t really the fifth starter, but Weiss held him back for the home opener because he thought his familiarity with the ballpark would give him a better chance than a newcomer like Jordan Lyles to ignore the hoopla of Opening Day.
Nicasio became the first Rockies starter to see the seventh inning this season. He repeatedly threw strike one, a strategy several of his teammates had assiduously avoided in Miami. He came out after giving up one run and four hits in seven innings. He threw just 87 pitches, 64 of them strikes. In addition to his usual gas, he commanded a tough slider and even mixed in a changeup.
“Juan did a great job,” Weiss said. “It was pretty much what the doctor ordered. We needed a good start and Juan got us deep in the game. Swung the bats well, manufactured some runs early when we had to and then had some big shots. CarGo, of course, Charlie. Good day all around. Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better.”
CarGo was drilling shots into the second deck in batting practice before the game when Weiss told him he might be the first to launch a ball into the new party deck looking down on right field from high above. Gonzalez just missed, pounding a Thatcher slider off the facing of the third deck.
“Nice and easy swing, a slider hanging right down the middle, and, you know, I got all of it,” CarGo said with a smile.
“It was a tough road trip. We could have split, but that’s going to happen. It’s a long season. A lot of things are going to happen. But the one thing that you can control is just showing up the next day with the same enthusiasm. That’s what we did today, in front of a lot of people. I think there is a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, so that really helps us.”
More than 49,000 happy souls — well, most of them were happy — wandered out into LoDo afterward thinking these guys just might prove to be pretty good companions during the summer to come. This was less a contest than a party, a celebration of baseball’s return.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen 6-for-6,” CarGo said. “I was talking to the guys on the bench. I don’t think I ever hit 6-for-6 even in little leagues.”
It’s a long season, as someone is sure to remind you if you offer even a hint of enthusiasm over Friday’s lidlifter. Spring will turn to summer. The Broncos will get back together for another run and the Rocks will barely be half done. Anything can happen. But coming off two last-place seasons in a row, the opener was a baseball booster shot. In the bars of LoDo, the buzz was all about the Nazty.