Sunday, May 24, 2009

Todd Helton Carries The Load For The Rockies

For the last three years many Rockies fans and sports writers have been groaning about the size of Todd Helton's contract. At $16.6 million per season Helton's salary was the third highest in the National League in 2008. Fans complained that his skills were diminishing and that he was handcuffing the team from signing more high profile free agents. Some writers even called for Helton to admit that he could not play the game anymore and simply retire.

In 2008, Helton had only two at bats after July 2nd due to a back injury that ended up requiring surgery in the offseason. The surgery was risky and many speculated that Helton would never play the same again. Even the Rockies said that Helton would need several more days off, to the point of only playing in the range of 120 games.

To say that the Rockies and their fans are surprised might be the understatement of the century.

On Sunday Helton took the Rockies on his shoulders and carried them to a win, the third time he has done that on the 10 game road trip.

Through 43 games, Helton is hitting .342 with six home runs and 31 RBI's. His bat speed is back and he is once again recieving the respect from pitchers that he got earlier in his career.

The 35 year old with a two discs in his back fused together is playing like a 25 year old. The whispers have finally started about Helton returning to the All-Star game this July, an honor that he has not received since 2004 when he was elected for the fifth consecutive year.

On Sunday in the Rockies 3-1 win, Helton went 2-for-5, driving in two runs, and scoring another. He got the Rockies on the board in the fifth inning, hitting a double that was finished off with an uncharacteristic fist pump that may have been more representative of how good Helton is feeling than his statistics. It is clear that he still believes that this team can win.

The play of Helton is making some wonder how long his back had been hurting him. The reality is, it seems like he is once again having fun playing the game and realizing that he can still play at a high level.

Helton returns to Coors Field where he should recieve the warmest welcome in his career from the home town fans. On Tuesday Helton notched his 2000th hit in his illustrious career, all with the Rockies, and fans are eager to let him know that they appreciate sacrifice and work he has put in while wearing a Colorado uniform.

While Helton was a huge part of the win in Detroit, a win that sealed a road series victory for only the second time this season, it would not be fair to take the credit away from the pitching staff, who combined to hold the Tiger's potent offense to only one run.

Jason Hammel, who has pitched well on the road, picked up his first Rockies win. He pitched six strong innings, giving up six hits and only one run. He walked three and struck out four, while throwing 86 pitches. The effort was good enough to defeat Dontrelle Willis, who has pitched well in his return.

The bullpen did it's part as well, Randy Flores, Manny Corpas and Huston Street combined to pitch three hitless innings to preserve the win.

The inning pitched by Corpas may have been the most encouraging as he quickly and confidently got two ground balls and a weak pop out in eight pitches, seven of which were strikes. He seemed like the Corpas of old as his slider seemed to carve through the Detroit bats.

The win may have helped prove to the Rockies that they can win close games, and that they can beat good teams.

Colorado returns home to play an afternoon Memorial Day game at Coors Field against the Dodgers. If the Rockies have any hope of crawling back into the National League West race, success against the Dodgers is crucial.

For those who pay attention to details, it should be interesting to watch as the Rockies will be wearing red hats to honor America. The CR logo will be in blue and white with stars inside.

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