CarGo stuck in dread­ful dream

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MA RK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

His bat­ting av­er­age reads like a mis­print: .217. CarGo is so far gone, it’s fair for the Rock­ies to worry if one of the best hit­ters in base­ball is ever com­ing back.

After Carlos Gon­za­lez failed to de­liver in the clutch and went hit­less Thurs­day dur­ing a 6-3 loss to Cincin­nati, I asked what it’s like to be him in the bat­ter’s box right now.

“It’s a night­mare,” Gon­za­lez told me.

How bad is this 3-month-old dream that has seen him drive in only 22 runs through 88 games? One so ugly Gon­za­lez de­scribed his night­mare with an ad­jec­tive not fit for print in a fam­ily news­pa­per.

“I know what it feels to be the best player in game and the worst player in the game,” Gon­za­lez said. “Right now, I feel like I’m the worst player in the game.”

The Rock­ies are so des­per­ate to get Gon­za­lez go­ing, they have tried ev­ery­thing and any­thing, from of­fer­ing tech­ni­cal ad­vice in the bat­ting cage to writ­ing his name in the cleanup spot of the bat­ting or­der, as if that lit­tle psy­cho­log­i­cal ploy might raise the ghost of the CarGo who hit .336, with 34 home runs and 117 RBIs, in 2010.

Three months is more than a slump. It’s a dis­turb­ing trend. We saw the end of Dan Is­sel with the Nuggets and Pey­ton Man­ning with the Bron­cos, and it wasn’t pretty. But at age 31, Gon­za­lez is much too young to be washed up. He in­sists there is noth­ing wrong phys­i­cally, and no strife in his per­sonal life.

So what’s wrong? And how do the Rock­ies get CarGo right?

“I don’t know if there’s a sim­ple an­swer,” man­ager Bud Black said. “It looks to me, in gen­eral, over­all this sea­son, that he is ex­pand­ing the (strike) zone a lit­tle bit too much. He’s swing­ing at balls too of­ten. … I’m see­ing an ex­pan­sion of his hit­ting zone, which al­ways leads to trou­ble.”

What are Colorado’s op­tions with Gon­za­lez? While the Rock­ies could re­ally use an­other righthanded pitcher in the bullpen, CarGo doesn’t have trade value as a highly paid, slump­ing vet­eran in the fi­nal year of his con­tract. Black can’t bench Gon­za­lez, be- cause if he doesn’t get go­ing, it’s hard to imag­ine the Rock­ies be­ing a fac­tor in Oc­to­ber. The team, how­ever, can re­duce his work­load to five games per week, al­low­ing more at-bats for fel­low cor­ner out­field­ers Raimel Tapia and Ger­ardo Parra, who’s ex­pected back from the dis­abled list for the week­end se­ries against the Chicago White Sox.

The peeps come to LoDo to see fire­works and ex­plo­sive of­fense. Coors Field is so in­fa­mous for crooked num­bers on the score­board that in a re­cent USA To­day story that spec­u­lated the base­ball is juiced in 2017, Mi­ami re­liever Brad Ziegler said: “It feels like ev­ery park is Colorado.”

So as strange as it sounds, it’s true: The Rock­ies rank 10th among Na­tional League teams in home runs per game. There are rea­sons aplenty. Trevor Story is scuf­fling through a sopho­more slump. Ian Des­mond has been bit by the in­jury bug. Noth­ing, how­ever, has hurt more than CarGo not be­ing CarGo.

With the Colorado of­fense sput­ter­ing, fail­ure is not an op­tion for Gon­za­lez. But fail­ure has plopped down on CarGo’s couch, eaten ev­ery­thing in the fridge and re­fuses to leave. It’s de­press­ing.

“The man­ager wants me to ex­e­cute. Ev­ery­body in the state wants me to ex­e­cute. And I don’t get it done. Of course, I get down,” Gon­za­lez said.

In the bot­tom of the eighth in­ning Thurs­day, after the Rock­ies ral­lied for a run but still trailed 6-3, Char­lie Black­mon stood on third base. Gon­za­lez dug in at the plate. This is where Colorado needed one of the most feared hit­ters in the game to lash a dou­ble or blast a homer that would bring the ball­park to life and push the rally into over­drive.

In­stead, Gon­za­lez lined the se­cond pitch from Reds re­liever Raisel Iglesias into the right­field stands. It was the best-look­ing swing of the bat from CarGo in days. But it was noth­ing ex­cept a foul ball.

Gon­za­lez worked the count to 3-2. But with the home crowd itch­ing for any good rea­son to leap to its feet and cheer, he struck out.

This is how it feels to be the slug­ger for­merly known as CarGo, when he gets one good pitch to ham­mer and comes up empty.

“It feels like I missed my bus,” Gon­za­lez said.

After ev­ery fail­ure, Gon­za­lez walks very slowly back to the Colorado dugout, his bruised ego hurt­ing with ev­ery step. The bat that has be­trayed him goes back in the rack. To­mor­row will be bet­ter. Or so CarGo hopes. Ev­ery morn­ing, he gets out of bed, looks in the mir­ror and sees “the best player in the game.”

But for three months, to­mor­row has never come.

Miss your bus, and it’s a long, lonely walk.

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