Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grand Slam from Helton not enough as Colorado Rockies lose finale to New York Mets

Todd Helton blasted the Rockies back into the game.
If there is one thing that is certain so far in the Colorado Rockies 2012 season, it is that Todd Helton is quieting the critics.

On Sunday, after spending seven and a half innings on the bench, Helton pinch hit with the bases loaded and two outs. The Rockies hopes looked bleak, after another Johan Santana gem against them put them down 4-0. Helton got down in the count 1-2 before drilling a no-doubt grand slam that hit off the facing of the second deck to tie the game.

Look around and the people calling for Helton to retire four long years ago are nowhere to be found. When the native Tennessean was struggling with a bad back, the only thing anyone said about him was how his best days were behind him. They complained about his contract and blamed him for the team's failures.

The doubters were sure that as Helton got older, he would never return to his previous form. The fact that he was only hitting in the neighborhood of 15 home runs per season discounted the fact that he continuously hit over .300 every year and played top-notch defense at first base.

Helton's blast left little doubt about how the lefty is feeling. Maybe the extra days off are paying off for Helton.

Helton's heroics were entertaining, if not nostalgic, once again reminding fans of just how good they have had it, being able to watch one of the best in the game everyday since 1998. However, the heroics came in vain as the Rockies lost in extra innings, giving up a run in both the 10th and 11th innings.

Three weeks removed from making excuses after another Rockies Sunday loss, Jim Tracy went against his core beliefs and decided not to rest all of his starters on Sunday. With a chance to win the series, Helton was the only regular who wasn't a part of the lineup.

It is interesting how the overwhelming reactions from fans seems to have forced Tracy's hand. Based on his reactions following the Sunday game two weeks ago, the manager had zero intention of changing his mind, even coming close to disrespecting the fans when the notion was brought up by the media following the game.

After Sunday's loss, the argument could be made that Tracy was right. That despite a solid lineup, the team still scored zero runs through seven innings. However, the point couldn't be more opposite. Giving Helton a day off is a good thing. Having him sit on Sundays is fine. If it keeps him healthy, and also provides an opportunity to use Helton for one at bat when it is most important, as he was used on Sunday.

The issue with Tracy's normal version of Sunday lineups is that so many of the regulars are on the bench at the same time that there is never an opportunity to use Helton to tie it or get back into the game with one good at bat.

How Tracy proceeds on Sunday's should be interesting. Was giving in to fans something that was done for a couple of weeks to keep the critics quiet, or will the new system be kept in place?

Despite a poor offensive showing, even with the majority of the regulars in the lineup, that shouldn't be seen as proof that the lineup wasn't to blame for Sunday shortcomings. Johan Santana was on his game. He extended his scoreless streak against the Rockies to 22 innings. Despite the Rockies seemingly incredible ability to make average pitchers look like Cy Young candidates, Santana was legitimate on Sunday. Sometimes good pitchers run into good hitters and win the battle.

While the Rockies showed good character by continuing to battle back, even when they seemed all but dead, the team needs to pick things up in order to make the nine-game homestand a good one. The hot Los Angeles Dodgers head to town for three games and the Atlanta Braves heading to Coors Field over the weekend. Winning both series is the only way to make the home stand a successful one.

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