DENVER — Charlie Blackmon hit a fly ball into foul territory down the left-field line in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s 9-5 Cardinals victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. Giving chase was third baseman Nolan Arenado, who, according to Statcast, ran 106 feet to get himself underneath the baseball as it descended.
Arenado made an incredible over-the-shoulder catch and quickly spun and threw the ball on a line to home plate to ensure the runner at third base didn’t tag up and score.
“There’s only one guy in this league that makes that play,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “And it’s him.”
Arenado has made that play before. In fact, prior to Wednesday’s gem, he had made that play multiple times on the very same field. In eight seasons with the Rockies, Arenado won eight of his nine Gold Glove Awards, making countless unforgettable memories both at the hot corner and in the batter’s box.
But in making the catch this time, there was a sincere tinge of sadness for him, one that encapsulates in a single play how he feels about returning to Colorado after being traded to St. Louis prior to the 2021 season.
“I wish I didn’t do it against Charlie,” Arenado said. “I wish it was somebody else. That’s my boy.”
Arenado had his finest game as a visiting player at Coors Field, going 3-for-5 with a double and a home run, the first he’s hit in the venue while wearing a road uniform. But while there was a mixture of cheers from a large contingent of Cardinals fans and a smattering of boos from Rockies fans, the superstar third baseman’s feelings on returning here aren’t as complicated as some might think.
When he was asked whether there was a special satisfaction in doing well against his former club at his old stomping grounds, the answer he gave was anticlimactic.
“Not really,” Arenado said. “I try not to put too much into that. I know we’re here at Coors Field, but I’m just happy we won.”
When asked about what it felt like to trot around the bases after his first homer as a visitor in the ballpark, he said it was “a little different.” But only a little.
“When you’re in the fight and in the battle of the game, you don’t really think about how I used to play there or any of those things,” he said.
What Arenado thinks about, outside of winning — which takes up most of his bandwidth — are the familiar faces. Blackmon is one. There was also Wednesday’s starter for the Rockies, Kyle Freeland, and a few others. But his partner in crime on the left side of the infield while he was a Rockie, with whom he committed so many brazen robberies of baseballs that should have become hits, was gone. Trevor Story is now in Boston.
“Last year was pretty emotional, just seeing Story at short was tough,” Arenado said of his first return. “I was with him for so long. But now it’s kinda different, there are a lot of different guys now — Charlie’s really the only one left from that main group, along with [Germán] Márquez, Freeland, [Antonio] Senzatela and those guys.”
With whatever Rockies fans think of his departure from Colorado — including those who booed him Wednesday night — Arenado doesn’t seem to be especially moved one way or the other when he fails or succeeds at the corner of 20th and Blake Street. He has certainly worn his emotions on his sleeve at times, but those have been reserved for big moments in the “heat of battle,” as he’d put it.
There have been many of those, particularly of late. The Cardinals’ win Wednesday was their ninth in 11 games and keeps them one game up on the Brewers for first place in the National League Central. After a 16-5 drubbing in Tuesday’s series opener, St. Louis bounced back with an 18-hit performance. Three of those were Arenado’s and four each came from Albert Pujols — who launched his eighth homer of the season and the 687th of his career — and Paul DeJong, who stayed hot at the plate with a pair of singles and a pair of doubles.
“We got smacked in the face a little bit yesterday,” Arenado said. “It was important for us to come out with a little hunger, a little energy, and we did that today.”
For Arenado, that’s what it comes down to now: winning. The drama and heaviness in the air of returning to Colorado is behind him. Now, he’s just playing to win it all with the Cardinals. And along with Paul Goldschmidt, he’s an MVP candidate in the process.
He just hopes the next time he makes a spectacular play, it’s not against Blackmon.