With six weeks left in the season, Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is leading the National League in hitting and was among the top five in a fistful of other offensive categories, including runs batted in, runs scored, hits, total bases and slugging percentage.
He is in the middle of the conversation for Most Valuable Player and maybe even a Triple Crown, and he placed an indelible exclamation point on this breakout season by hitting for the cycle on July 31 against the Cubs. Gonzalez finished that big day in the most dramatic way possible, hitting a walk-off home run.
"It was the best moment of my career," he said.
So how is it that this talented 24-year-old was traded twice within 11 months in multi-player swaps involving high-profile players? Don't expect that to happen again anytime soon, not the way Gonzalez has impacted the Rockies.
In December 2007, Arizona packaged Gonzalez and five other players to Oakland for front-line pitcher Dan Haren. He was shaken by the deal. "Arizona gave me my first opportunity," Gonzalez said. The Diamondbacks had signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 2002. He had spent five years in the organization. "To move to another team," he said, "that was all new to me. I put a lot of pressure on myself. It didn't work out."
There were moments when it seemed the A's had made a steal of a deal. Each of Gonzalez's first seven Major League hits went for extra bases, all doubles. It was the first time that had happened since 1936 when Hall of Famer Johnny Mize broke in with five doubles, a triple and a home run.
But his season lacked consistency, and he batted just .242 in 85 games. So when Colorado made slugging outfielder Matt Holliday available the following November, Oakland jumped at the opportunity to get one of the Rockies' cornerstone players. The price was three players, pitchers Huston Street, Greg Smith and Gonzalez.
"This was a second chance," Gonzalez said. "I made up my mind this would be different. They gave me my same No. 5. The first time I was traded, I had to get used to a lot of new stuff. The second time, nothing was new. I had gone through it once. I knew what was involved. I decided to go out and have fun."
He had an eye-opening season with the Rockies in 2009. There were home runs in four straight games in August as he became a productive bat in the middle of the Colorado lineup, welcome protection for holdover hitters like Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe.
Gonzalez became the centerpiece of the Rockies' attack in 2010, spraying hits all over the place. There was a power surge, including six home runs in eight games, and he led the league with six four-hit games. The best of all, however, was the day he hit for the cycle against the Cubs.
"I believe it was meant to be for me that day," Gonzalez said. "I watched every play and how every one worked out well. The first at-bat was a line drive over first base that should have been a double. I got a single. The triple should have been a home run. Every ball I hit was supposed to be something different."
Not the last one.
That was a 462-foot shot into the third deck at Coors Field that capped Colorado's 6-5 victory. It was the first walk-off homer to complete a cycle since Dwight Evans did it for the Red Sox on June 28, 1984.
Gonzalez knew what was needed because the fans wouldn't let him forget, "From the seventh inning, everybody in the stands was talking, asking for a home run," he said. "I knew the whole time. It was like playing a video game. I didn't miss anything. It was just magic."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.