DENVER -- As bad as things have been at times for Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez this season -- and in his world, they couldn't really be much worse -- he has never lost his smile. He has never doubted his ability. Gonzalez has welcomed each new day as his opportunity to regain his stature as one of the game's elite players.
Gonzalez has, after all, been here, done this and survived.
And that's why when Gonzalez thinks back to Colorado's 9-7 victory over San Diego at Coors Field on Tuesday night, he can shake his head in wonder when he talks about that first-inning strikeout and fourth-inning groundout to the right side.
"There is no guarantee of success every at-bat," Gonzalez said. "I know what I am capable of. I have confidence."
But how much confidence does the three-time All-Star have after seeing his average fall to .212 two at-bats into the Rockies' 96th game of the season, underscored by a 4-for-26 stretch that included 11 strikeouts since he came off the disabled list on July 3?
"I don't doubt myself," Gonzalez said.
And Gonzalez proved it in his next two at-bats. With one out, two on and the scored tied at 4 in the fifth, Gonzalez lined a two-run double into center field, then scored on a two-out single by Alexi Amarista to put Colorado up, 7-4.
In the next inning, after the Padres cut that lead to 7-6, it was CarGo's two-out single that drove in the second run of the inning to put the Rockies back in charge, 9-6.
"I was just trying to be me," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez knows what has gone on so far this season isn't up to his standard. He also knows that he can turn the season around in a hurry, like he did in 2015.
"Everyone wanted to know what was wrong at the All-Star break that year," Gonzalez said. "Then in the second half, I hit [.285] with 27 home runs and 62 RBIs and [received] my second Silver Slugger [Award]."
And then there was the All-Star break in 2009, the mention of which brings a smile to Gonzalez's face. Called up by Colorado 53 games into that season, he went into the break hitting .202 with one home run, five RBIs and 25 strikeouts in 27 games.
Manager Jim Tracy called Gonzalez into his office and explained real plainly, "You've done everything you can do at Triple-A. There's no sense sending you back. You need to figure it out here."
Gonzalez did. In the post-All-Star portion of the season, he hit .320 with 12 home runs and 24 RBIs, and he played a key part in the last Rockies team that went to the postseason.
"I think about that all the time," Gonzalez said. "It was important for me. He believed in me. He knew what I could do and I did it."
Those are the type of memories that have carried Gonzalez through what has been a season of personal disappointments, soothed only because the team is off to the best start in franchise history and very much a factor in the National League postseason race. Colorado entered Wednesday 5 1/2 games ahead of the defending World Series-champion Cubs in the bid for the second NL Wild Card spot, and the club is just a half-game back of the Wild Card-leading D-backs.
"Just wait until CarGo gets hot," said fellow Venezuelan and close friend Gerardo Parra. "Everybody knows what he can do."
Most important, Gonzalez knows what he can do. That's why in this season of struggle, he has never given up on himself, confident that he is just a game away from turning the season into something to celebrate.
Gonzalez can only wonder if that moment arrived in those last two at-bats Tuesday, particularly that sixth-inning RBI single that he lined into right field off left-hander Jose Torres.
"I know baseball is not easy," said Gonzalez. "That's why I come in every day happy and excited about what can happen. If nothing good happens, then I think about being ready tomorrow."
And when something good happens, like those final two at-bats on Tuesday?
"I think about being ready tomorrow," Gonzalez said.
And Gonzalez works at being ready. There have been long sessions with Rockies hitting coaches Duane Espy and Jeff Salazar and moments of personal reflection. He watches video of himself when he was hitting well, looking for that missing ingredient.
"It's not like I am reinventing myself," Gonzalez said. "I try to be my old self. I compare old videos with what I am doing now. The game feels really fast when you are uncertain about [a plan]. That is not my case. I am seeing the ball well. I am healthy. I feel strong. I am just missing my pitches."
Or at least, Gonzalez was just missing his pitches. In those final two at-bats on Tuesday, it was vintage CarGo.
The challenge is to have Gonzalez back again on Wednesday and Friday, and every other day Colorado has a game in the remainder of this season.
It's a challenge Gonzalez has met in the past. It's a challenge he is confident he can face head-on in the present.