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10/08/09 9:49 PM ET

Gonzalez rewarding Rockies' patience

Outfielder helps fuel Game 2 victory from leadoff spot

PHILADELPHIA -- Earlier this season, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said his thirst to win led him to actually welcome an August demotion to the Minors last year.

He went from the nowhere-bound Athletics to Triple-A Sacramento, which was in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Gonzalez earned co-Most Valuable Player honors.

Rockies at a glance
2009 record: 92-70
2008 record: 74-88
Clinched NL Wild Card
NLDS matchup:
Rockies at Phillies
Postseason tix: Information

Gonzalez: Bat on fire
Bullpen: Hitting stride
Gonzalez: Rewarding Rox
Giambi: Impact beyond bat
Tulowitzki: Ready for return
Cook: Returns right on time
Barmes: Credit to Tracy
Marquis: Living in moment
Ubaldo: Big-game pitcher
Helton/Giambi: Leaders
Stewart: Emerging star
Tracy: Quiet leader
Street: Mutual admiration
De La Rosa: Earning trust
Ubaldo: Sending a message
Helton: Resurgent slugger
Morales: On the attack
Tulowitzki: Vigorous finish

"It was fun in the Minor Leagues," Gonzalez said. "I had the opportunity twice to win championships. That was pretty exciting.

"But nothing compares with this."

No longer needing to get his kicks in Triple-A, Gonzalez is an integral part of a Rockies team that finds itself in a good position against the Phillies in the National League Division Series.

Colorado has split two games with defending World Series champion Philadelphia, with Gonzalez going 5-for-9 with a double and two runs scored.

He went 3-for-5 with a double and a run from the leadoff position in Thursday's 5-4 Game 2 victory. Manager Jim Tracy swapped Gonzalez with center fielder Dexter Fowler, who hit second.

Gonzalez singled off Cole Hamels in Thursday's first inning, then stole second. Fowler bunted Gonzalez to third, and Gonzalez scored on Todd Helton's fielder's-choice grounder.

Tracy referred to Gonzalez and Fowler, both 23, as "two kids, two young studs that have quite a future in this game at the Major League level."

Gonzalez struggled immediately after being called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs in June. But a strong second half brought his batting average to .284, with a .353 on-base percentage. He wound up hitting .300 in 110 leadoff at-bats and .327 in 52 at-bats from the No. 2 spot.

"You just want to have the opportunity to play, no matter where you hit, one or two," said Gonzalez, known around the clubhouse as "Little Pony" because of the slightly longer tuft of hair down the middle of his head, which teammate Brad Hawpe compared to a horse's mane. "You just want to be in the lineup, do your best, help the ballclub win."

When Gonzalez was hitting .202 with 25 strikeouts in 84 at-bats, Tracy faced calls to send him back to Colorado Springs. Glad the Rockies felt he was past that, Gonzalez worked his way back into playing time and became a force.

"It was really hard for me, but when you're not doing very good, you have to keep yourself happy and try to keep working, just win your job back," Gonzalez said. "That's what I did.

"When you get to play more, you're going to feel better at the plate. The key was being patient, waiting for my opportunity."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.