DENVER -- In the winter of 2011, Nolan Arenado sat on a couch at Troy Tulowitzki's home in a Las Vegas suburb. Arenado roared in delight as he played video games, generating laughter in the room as two boxer dogs wandered through looking for snacks.
A few hours later, he took cuts in a carved out warehouse, former four-time batting champion Bill Madlock firing fastballs that Arenado returned as lasers into the back of the cage. It took little imagination to see this 20-year-old turning a major league stadium into his own personal PlayStation.
The kid never wavered. He bathed in pressure, whether in practice, travel ball, in the minors or on a couch with a controller in his hand.
Friday night, the day he had long dreamed about, intersected his reality.
"The moment won't be too big," Arenado told me. "We expected this. In spring training we expected the Dodgers series to be like this. We are ready."
Arenado walked into the spotlight and into a sellout crowd's arms, his first inning home run serving as the catalytic response in the Rockies' 9-1 ear boxing of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Only the Milwaukee Brewers' win over St. Louis halted the Rockies from clinching their first playoff berth since 2009.
Milwaukee can't prevent it Saturday. The Magic Number sits at 1, a lonely yet tantalizing digit.
"I don't know if it's a feeling. Everybody is aware of what's going on," manager Bud Black said. "We know what we have to do and it's good to be in this spot, right?"
With a Brewers loss on Saturday afternoon or a Rockies' victory, Colorado tip-toes into the dance. Froth at the mouth all you want Brewers. The Rockies eliminated any doubt about their resilience and slow heart beat with Arenado's breathtaking blast. Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu elevated a fastball on a full count that the All-Star third baseman lost over the center field fence.
"That's what great players do," shortstop Trevor Story said of Arenado.
Relaxed fingers became a fist.
First baseman Mark Reynolds followed with his 30th home run as Ryu labored through a 31-pitch first inning in his latest forgettable outing. Story and Charlie Blackmon, like Arenado making a last weekend push for National League MVP honors, followed with home runs. Blackmon's came with a dash of history. His 37th home run, estimated at 454 feet, established an all-time record for RBIs by a leadoff hitter with 101. He plated one run from the third spot. Blackmon broke the mark of Darin Erstad, the University of Nebraska baseball coach, set in 2000.
Afterward, Blackmon walked through the bowels of Coors Field to the parking lot, unbothered by history, his focus already shifting to Saturday.
Starter Chad Bettis made the offensive eruption matter. In arguably his best outing since striking out cancer in his debut on Aug. 14, Bettis tamed the Dodgers.
"I think to be with my teammates, it's special," Bettis said. "It's something I strived for."
Given the time, place and stakes, Bettis delivered a remarkable performance for a man who dealt with aggressive chemotherapy several months into the season. Bettis worked seven innings, allowing one run on four hits on 92 pitches.
"He's the ultimate competitor," Story said. "He's been through some things. He's the ultimate warrior, for sure."
In February, the Rockies opened eyes by talking about playing meaningful games in September. Faith is believing what cannot be seen. The prism, now, has changed. It has a noticeable hue.
The Rockies are poised to go Up with Purple.
"It's different. Even when you are driving around the city to get to the ballpark, it's a different smell, a different feel," said Carlos Gonzalez, who credits sleep therapy for his September rebound. "We know we are close to a really big thing."