MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Arenado: 'I want the at-bat' in clutch situations

Rockies third baseman delivering power, poise under pressure

Arenado: 'I want the at-bat' in clutch situations

DENVER -- Nolan Arenado is the exception.

Named the National League Player of the Month for July on Wednesday, the Rockies' third baseman has made clutch hitting an art -- and this is only his fifth season in the big leagues.

All at-bats are not created equal. There are players who have that ability to respond to the challenge.

Colorado manager Bud Black knows. He's seen it firsthand. Black was a teammate of George Brett in Kansas City, Barry Bonds in San Francisco and Albert Belle in Cleveland.

"There are definitely guys who rise to the occasion, who like the big stage," said Black. "They just relish it. It doesn't matter where. It doesn't matter who is pitching. They have the ability to ignore everything that is going on around them and focus on the challenge they face at the plate. It's their special moment."

It's times like Tuesday night; the Mets were leading the Rockies, 2-0, in the sixth inning. New York left-hander Steven Matz allowed an infield single through the first five innings.

Arenado's three-run jack

And then came the sixth. Charlie Blackmon led off with a single and went to third on a DJ LeMahieu double. Up stepped Arenado. He worked a full count and then drove Matz's next pitch over the center-field fence for a 3-2 lead. Three innings later, with the scored tied, Blackmon led off with a walk and LeMahieu singled.

Arenado shortened up his stroke on an 0-2 pitch and flipped the game-ending single into center field. Colorado's bench cleared in celebration, and the Coors Field fans celebrated.

Again.

It has become expected of Arenado, who was called up a month into the 2013 season -- making him three months shy of five full seasons. He already ranks fifth all-time in RBIs among players who primarily played third case in the first five years of their career.

With 471 RBIs, Arenado is 18 behind David Wright (Mets, 2004-08). In the next two months, he also has a chance to overtake Eddie Mathews, who drove in 492 runs with the Boston Braves from 1952-56. Pinky Whitney, who drove in 533 runs for the Phillies from 1928-32, is out of reach.

Arenado's five hits, three HRs

"I want the moment, the at-bat," said Arenado. "I don't like failing in them, but I don't mind them. I feel as comfortable as you can be in that situation."

He should.

There is a movement that claims there is no such thing as clutch hitting. Arenado, however, would seem to be the outlier. He is the only player who has been in the top 25 each of the past three years in batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position.

And over the past three years, Arenado's average is markedly better in pressure situations. Since the start of the 2015 season, he is hitting .260 with nobody on base, .342 with runners on base, .387 with runners in scoring position and .375 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Must C: Arenado's clutch triple

"He's one of those special guys," said Black.

Black smiled when Game 3 of the 1985 American League Championship Series between the Royals and Blue Jays was mentioned. Kansas City lost the first two games, but it won Game 3 and wound up claiming the AL pennant in seven games on its way to a World Series victory. It will be forever known as "The Game George Refused to Lose."

Brett homered in the first inning off Toronto veteran Doyle Alexander for a 1-0 lead. He doubled to lead off the fourth, and he scored on a Frank White sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. With the Blue Jays up, 5-3, in the bottom of the sixth, Willie Wilson led off with a single, and Brett followed with a game-tying home run. Brett led off the eighth with a single, and he eventually scored the winning run in the 6-5 victory on a Steve Balboni single.

Must C: Arenado hits for cycle

"You picked out a guy in every lineup that you aren't going to let beat you in any game," the late Sparky Anderson said, "and George is that guy with the Royals. Heck, George would be that guy if he was on any team in baseball. He is going to find a way to beat you if you give him the chance."

Black agrees. As a hitter, Belle was that way, too.

"Albert was so driven to get hits and do well," said Black. "Regardless of the game, 1-1 in the ninth or 15-0 in the ninth, he wasn't giving away any at-bats. He never let up."

And then there was Bonds.

"He was another guy who relished the big moment," said Black. "He was so confident that he could handle it. If it didn't happen one game, he fed his determination the next time."

Arenado's stellar defense

What makes Arenado different is that, as impactful as he is as a hitter, he also is brilliant on defense.

Consider that in his fifth big league season, Arenado has already won four NL Gold Glove Awards, and he won the NL Silver Slugger Award at third base the past two years. Both awards are decided in a vote by the NL coaches and managers.

"That's a pretty strong endorsement of Nolan," said Black.

It's an endorsement Arenado has heard with his play, both at the plate and in the field.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.