McMahon's clutch homer may signal tide has turned

June 19th, 2022

DENVER -- There is a moment before each game when players slip into an intense but quiet place. So hearing the voice of the Ryan McMahon before the Rockies’ game Saturday night against the Padres startled teammate Charlie Blackmon. What McMahon said really grabbed Blackmon’s attention.

“Mac said something to me right before the game started, which usually is, like, no talk,” Blackmon said. “I don’t really talk. It was kind of uncharacteristic for him to say that to me at that time.

“Mac actually told me ahead of time that he was going to have a big night. That’s pretty cool. Tell me you’re going to do it, then go out there and do it.”

After two hits and a walk in his first three plate appearances, McMahon emphatically backed his words with an eighth-inning home run to give the Rockies a 5-4 victory, which provided a large crowd (38,768) something more to cheer about than the frequent updates of goals in the Colorado Avalanche’s 7-0 win in over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Avs had taken Game 1 and needed Game 2, and Denver expected it. But forgive the locals for not having any idea they’d be cheering McMahon, whose first year of a six-year, $70 million contract has been rough.

McMahon’s game-winner, off Luis García, ended a run of 105 homerless at-bats. Before Friday, McMahon had batted .161 over his previous 27 games.

Maybe it’s good McMahon spoke to Blackmon to let his belief out in the universe. Because for much of this season, his thoughts were in the worst possible place -- rattling around in his mind.

“So I tried to take my mind out of it and just go play the game,” McMahon said. “It’s the hardest thing to do, man. This game is very mental. It’s taxing on you. Sometimes you’ve just got to stay out of your own way.”

Before the game, which also included two-run homers from C.J. Cron (his third in the two weekend victories over the Padres) in the first and Blackmon in the fifth, manager Bud Black unpacked the baggage McMahon had been carrying. Trying to hit his way out of the slump, McMahon swung at unhittable pitches, so pitchers threw more of those and McMahon missed them.

A leadoff single off Padres starter Nick Martinez in the second inning was a good sign. The walk he drew in the fourth was a better one. The homer on García’s 1-2 slider, which landed in the Rockies’ bullpen and in the glove of nimble bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz, potentially could be the arrival of the best of McMahon, who had seasons of 24 homers in 2019 and 23 last year but is at five in '22.

“Mac cares a lot … it’s been a rough month or so for Mac,” Black said in the postgame, post-homer glow. “But tonight is what he’s capable of.

“He got down 0-2 when he fought back and walked. So that tells you he didn’t expand the zone. He didn’t chase. Mac’s discipline in his career, and even in the Minors, is really good. When he wavers from that, that’s when he gets into trouble.”

Determination has never been a question with McMahon, but his 2022 struggles, which include 11 errors at third base after being named a finalist for last year’s Gold Glove Award, have dampened his ability to play with freedom. But he’s going about it in a way the Rockies admire, by turning his attention to helping teammates. He did it last Sunday with a game-winning, two-run double at San Diego.

Starting pitcher Germán Márquez, who struck out seven in five innings and left with the game tied, 4-4, was the pitcher who benefitted from McMahon last weekend and watched him put a game in the Rockies’ pockets on Saturday.

“I love it -- I love Mac,” Márquez said. “I love to see that guy hitting bombs.”

McMahon said he might feel the weight of the contract in quiet moments. But he doesn’t carry that to his job, which is trying to help lift a club that’s in an eight-under-.500 hole, partly because it hasn‘t come up with the clutch swing.

As his winner landed, he turned to the dugout and shouted, “Let’s go,” in a moment of value that couldn’t be bought.

“I remember talking to Nolan [Arenado, now with the Cardinals], and he just said you want to be worth it because you want to be a good player for your teammates,” McMahon said. “He couldn’t have been more right. Those are the things you care about.”