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CarGo stays hot with 2-run homer vs. Cards

Rockies move into tie for second place in the NL West
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Gonzalez was down, but not at wit's end. Struggling so badly in May, he had gone from three-time All-Star to an irregular in the Rockies' lineup. So he brought his personal laptop to Dodger Stadium on May 21 and told Duane Espy, his hitting coach, "Sit down."

The turnaround has been stunning, and Gonzalez was devastating, with a single, a key walk and a two-run homer in Tuesday night's 6-3 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

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ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Gonzalez was down, but not at wit's end. Struggling so badly in May, he had gone from three-time All-Star to an irregular in the Rockies' lineup. So he brought his personal laptop to Dodger Stadium on May 21 and told Duane Espy, his hitting coach, "Sit down."

The turnaround has been stunning, and Gonzalez was devastating, with a single, a key walk and a two-run homer in Tuesday night's 6-3 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

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How is Gonzalez's swing? The 114.4 mph exit velocity was the fastest for a home run for him and for the Rockies since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015.

With the win -- their 20th in the last 26 games -- the Rockies moved into a tie with the Dodgers for second place in the National League West, a half-game behind the D-backs.

"I'm just trying to slow the game as much as possible, trust my instincts, trust my hands when I'm swinging," said Gonzalez, who improved to 757 career RBIs to move past former catcher Ramon Hernandez (1999-2013 with five teams, including Colorado) into 10th place among Venezuelan-born MLB players.

Video: COL@STL: Gonzalez lines a 2-run homer to right field

Gonzalez's 13th homer of the season, in the seventh inning off John Brebbia, supported righty Jon Gray (9-7), who didn't need much. Gray gave up a leadoff homer to Matt Carpenter, didn't give up another hit until the fifth and finished 7 1/3 innings with four hits and three runs (two earned).

Gray shook off the mistake slider for the Carpenter home run -- another indication that the problems that led to his being optioned to Triple-A on June 30 are behind him. In three starts since returning, Gray has a 1.66 ERA with a .137 batting average against.

"That's going to happen," said Gray, who later found his slider, and mixed a slow curve with his fastball. "I didn't expect to happen the first batter of the game. But when it happens early like that, you've got to do everything you can to lock it down and let them know that they're not going to run away with it."

Video: COL@STL: Gray fans 5 over 7 1/3 frames to earn win

Charlie Blackmon extended his hit streak to 13 games with a two-run shot off Cards starter Jack Flaherty (4-6). Wade Davis earned his 31st save.

Gonzalez's redemption has been a key to the Rockies' surge into serious postseason contention. The principles agreed upon in the meeting with Espy took a few days to take hold, but they did after batting cage work with Espy and assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar. Since May 27, Gonzalez has batted .335 (62-for-185) with nine home runs and 31 RBIs and reclaimed regular opportunities as the Rockies' cleanup hitter.

"When you've had success in the big leagues before, it's easier to find your way," Gonzalez said. "But you've got to listen to other people. There might be something that you're not seeing. I try to learn, no matter what. I don't feel I know everything."

Video: COL@STL: Davis retires Gyorko to earn his 31st save

Gonzalez's familiar leg kick became exaggerated to the point that he was turning away from the pitch, and the timing went wrong. So he and Espy looked at video from 2015, when Gonzalez overcame a similarly slow start and finished with 40 homers.

Gonzalez slips into old habits when he feels good. Espy boiled it down to a key word -- one he won't reveal -- to remind Gonzalez when his swing is out of whack. When it's solid, he gets swings like the seventh-inning homer for a 6-1 lead.

Gonzalez said Espy dropped a reminder after Gonzales fanned in his first at-bat, and on the heels of a tough night in Monday's 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Cards. The results spoke for themselves.

"We're excited about what he's doing, but he should be prouder," Espy said of Gonzalez. "When he wasn't doing well, even if you go back a year ago, nobody was happier when we were winning and nobody was more supportive of that room. For me, he's a better person than he is a player."

SOUND SMART
Blackmon's homer left him two hits shy of 1,000 in a Rockies uniform. He would be the seventh player to accomplish the feat.

"I guess that's all right when you say, 'Wow, you've got 1,000 hits," said Blackmon, a three-time All-Star. "But then you think about all these people that have 3,000-something, it makes you realize you're kind of just a drop in the bucket."

Video: COL@STL: Blackmon crushes 2-run homer to right-center

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gonzalez showed his all-around value defensively to retire Yadier Molina at the end of the fifth.

For the sheer Statcast™ numbers, Gonzalez ranged 79 feet in 4.5 seconds, which computed to a 43 percent catch probability -- a four-star catch, officially.

Now, the story beyond the computations: Gonzalez had to slide and tumble, and still make the catch while avoiding hurtling into the wall in right-field foul ground.

"I think it really is vintage CarGo," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "I saw him from the other side. I saw him 18, 19 times a year, for many years, and right now, he's the player I saw from the other side who was dangerous at the plate and impactful on defense."

Video: COL@STL: Gonzalez lays out for a stellar diving grab

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Arguably Gray's biggest play of the night -- a double play to end the fifth -- required some fancy footwork, and a Rockies challenge to overturn the call.

After giving up Tyler O'Neill's infield single -- the first hit since the Carpenter homer -- and walking Dexter Fowler on a 3-2 pitch, Gray forced Greg Garcia into a grounder to first baseman Ian Desmond. Gray's right foot was not on the bag when he caught Trevor Story's throw, but he did a little slide to touch up before Garcia arrived.

Video: COL@STL: Gray induces DP after overturned call in 5th

UP NEXT
The Rockies have won each of lefty Kyle Freeland's last five starts, during which he is 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA. Freeland (9-6, 3.13), who has 13 quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs), will face the Cardinals and righty Luke Weaver (6-9, 4.70) at Busch Stadium on Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. MT.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Jon Gray