This article was written by Mike Huber
On a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants finished a four-game series in front of a sellout Father’s Day crowd at Coors Field. The game-time temperature was 78 degrees, and the there was a slight wind blowing out to left field. The first 15,000 fans received a Rockies BBQ spatula as part of the Father’s Day promotional schedule, and they joined another 33,341 spectators to witness Rockies history, as Nolan Arenado became the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle and bring his team to victory with a come-from-behind, walk-off home run.
Rockies skipper Bud Black called for Tyler Chatwood to make the start. The right-hander had won his two previous decisions. San Francisco countered with Ty Blach, a Denver native, to try to stop the hot Colorado bats, as the Rockies were winners of 11 of their last 14 games. The Giants were struggling to find wins. Although they had scored eight or more runs in three of their previous eight games, they had managed only two or fewer in the others, and had a 1-7 record to show for that stretch.
Opportunities knocked, with the Giants putting their leadoff batter aboard in each of the first four innings, but they could not push a run across against Chatwood. The Rockies had no luck, either, despite a two-out triple by Arenado in the first and back-to-back singles by Arenado and Mark Reynolds to start the fourth.
In the top of the fifth, however, the leadoff-batter-getting-on-base streak ended. Chatwood struck out Blach to start the frame. Denard Span worked a full count and then drew a walk, his third free pass of the game. Joe Panik lined out to left fielder Ian Desmond. With Brandon Crawford batting, Span stole second base, and two pitches later, Crawford smashed a ball deep down the left-field line for an opposite-field two-run homer. It was Crawford’s sixth round-tripper of the season.
That 2-0 score lasted until the bottom of the sixth. D.J. LeMahieu walked to start the inning for the Rockies. He scored when the next batter, Arenado, stroked a double that went to the wall in left-center. San Francisco’s lead was cut in half. In the bottom of the seventh, Colorado’s Trevor Story led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers. Tom Murphy followed with a fly to deep right, which Gorkys Hernandez tracked down for the inning’s first out. On the very next pitch from Blach, Pat Valaika crushed a ball to deep left, giving Colorado a 3-2 advantage. Three batters, three deep fly balls. After a Charlie Blackmon groundout, Giants manager Bruce Bochy summoned George Kontos from the bullpen to relieve Blach. Kontos struck out Arenado to end the seventh and also kept the Rockies off the scoreboard in the eighth inning.
Colorado was trying to keep its one-run lead as the ninth inning began. Jake McGee came in from the bullpen to relieve Jordan Lyles, who had pitched the eighth inning for Colorado. McGee retired Aaron Hill on a groundout to third. Hernandez then walked on four pitches. Hunter Pence hit for Kontos and launched an 0-and-1 offering over the left-center-field wall, giving San Francisco back the lead. It was Pence’s first career pinch-hit home run and his fourth round-tripper of the 2017 campaign. After retiring Span, McGee gave up a single to Panik, who stole second base. Crawford then drove the ball into deep right field for a double and Panik raced around the bases, upping the score to 5-3 in favor of the Giants. Carlos Estevez trotted in from the bullpen and threw five pitches, striking out Buster Posey to end the inning.
In their final at-bat in regulation, Arenado was due up fifth for the Rockies, who “would need something spectacular to keep from losing for the first time in 44 games in which they led after seven innings.”2 Arenado told reporters that he “wanted that last at-bat.”3 Somehow, he must have felt that the game rested on his shoulders.
The bottom-of-the-ninth rally began with a one-out bloop single into center field by Raimel Tapia off Mark Melancon, who entered in the ninth to save the game for San Francisco. Blackmon followed with another single, advancing Tapia to third. LeMahieu rolled the third single of the inning past second base. Tapia scored and Blackmon scampered to third. That set the stage for Arenado. “I was fired up,” Arenado said, describing his emotions as he entered the batter’s box. “I heard the crowd. But I just said a little prayer. ‘Calm down, give me strength to be able to slow this game down.’”4 He said that although he knew he had the possibility of completing a cycle, he was more concerned about hitting “something to drive in a run.”5 When Melancon delivered the first pitch of the at-bat, a fastball inside, Arenado swung and connected. “I thought it had a chance. I put some backspin on the baseball and I was hoping it would go out.”6 The ball sailed over the Jimmy Johns sign in left-center, just beyond the reach of San Francisco’s Austin Slater, and a fan caught it about three feet above the wall’s yellow line. Most of the Giants were already walking off the field by the time Arenado rounded first base with his arms raised high in the air.
The fans showed their appreciation with “an earthshaking response,”7 rocking Coors Field. As Arenado was mobbed at home plate by his teammates, the frenzied crowd shouted, “MVP! MVP!”8 Jack Corrigan was calling the game for the Rockies on radio station KOA. As the blast sailed over the fence, Corrigan told listeners that this was “a cycle for the ages!”9 In the crazy celebration at home, Blackmon’s helmet caught Arenado just above his left eye, creating a gash that bled down his uniform. Arenado was not concerned, stating, “It’s blood and it’s not coming off.”10 He vowed not to wash the jersey.
After the game Colorado manager Black told reporters that Arenado was “one of the best players in the game. He’s capable of doing these things, no doubt about that.”11 By going 4-for-5, two-time All-Star12 Arenado had raised his batting average to .299, his slugging percentage to .573, and his OPS to .925. His four runs batted in kept him in the National League lead, with 55. In fact, the two-time ML-defending RBI leader was tied for the most runs batted in at the 2017 All-Star break with 70.
This was the eighth cycle in Colorado Rockies history.13 Said Arenado, “Obviously, it’s one of the best moments of my career. I’ve had some big homers, but this is by far the best.”14 Estevez, who pitched to only one batter, earned the win, raising his record to 4-0.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Arenado’s achievement was “the first walk-off, cycle-completing home run with the batter’s team trailing in Major League history.”15 It was only the 10th come-from-behind walk-off hit of any type when a batter has hit for the cycle. Four of those previous nine walk-off hits were home runs, but in every one of those games, the score had been tied.16
The Giants, stuck in last place in the National League’s West Division, suffered their sixth consecutive loss, a season high. Melancon remarked to reporters, “My performance has been absolutely terrible.” The only bright spots for the Giants were Pence’s home run and Crawford’s 3-for-5, 3-RBI day. The Rockies had now won five straight games. The victory also capped the first time that the Rockies had swept the San Francisco Giants in a four-game series in their 25-season history.Arenado’s 15th home run of the 2017 season cemented his place in Colorado history.
- Video: Watch MLB.com’s recap of Arenado hitting for the cycle at mlb.com/video/must-c-arenado-hits-for-cycle/c-1514007183.
This story originally appeared in “Major League Baseball A Mile High: The First Quarter Century of the Colorado Rockies” (SABR, 2018), edited by Bill Nowlin and Paul T. Parker. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, mlb.com and retrosheet.org.
1 Thomas Harding, “‘Cycle for the Ages!’ Rockies, Nolan Rollin’,” https://m.mlb.com/news/article/237315934/rockies-nolan-arenado-hits-for-cycle/, accessed July 2017.
5 Patrick Saunders, “Nolan Arenado’s Walk-Off Homer Completes Cycle in Rockies Win Over Giants,” https://denverpost.com/2017/06/18/Nolan-arenado-completes-cycle-rockies-win-giants/, accessed July 2017.
8 Michael Kelly, “Nolan Arenado Completes Cycle With Walk-Off Homer in Rockies’ 7-5 Win Over Giants,” https://chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/ct-nolan-arenado-hits-cycle-20170618-story.html, accessed July 2017.
12 Arenado was elected to his third consecutive All-Star Game in 2017.
13 Michael Cuddyer was the seventh Rockies batter to hit for the cycle, on August 17, 2014. It was the second time in his career that he had hit for the cycle (the first occurred on May 22, 2009, when he was with the Minnesota Twins).
16 The four other players to hit walk-off home runs in completing a cycle were Ken Boyer (St. Louis Cardinals, September 14, 1961, second game), Cesar Tovar (Minnesota Twins, September 19, 1972), Dwight Evans (Boston Red Sox, June 28, 1984), and Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado Rockies, July 31, 2010). All four came with the score tied.