|Todd Helton led the Rockies to victory.|
Todd Helton stepped to the plate in the top of the 7th inning with the game still scoreless. Jorge De La Rosa had done his job, giving the club glimpses of what they had seen in 2009. The lefty gave up just two hits, while walking two and striking out seven.
Go back through the Twitter timelines to Friday night. Following a sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, many angry fans took to Twitter to criticize the Rockies grizzly veteran. Helton had started the season 2-for-21, an .095 batting average, through the team's first nine games. Frankly, his at-bats warranted the criticism. Helton looked like a guy who was had seen his best days end long ago.
However, follow Helton throughout his career and one thing is very evident. When Helton falls into a slump, he doesn't come out of it in a small way, he collects a bunch of hits all at once. On Friday he looked more comfortable at the plate, going 3-for-4, and continued on Saturday going 2-for-4. Sunday Helton, as expected, was given the day off. With the game scoreless in the 7th inning, Walt Weiss decided to send Helton to the plate with one out and Chris Nelson on second base to hit for De La Rosa.
Padres reliever Dale Thayer was on the mound, working on 20 at-bats in the 2013 season without giving up a hit. That changed when Helton hit a 2-1 slider deep to right-center field to get the Rockies on the board.
Helton is certainly not the same that he was in the early 2000's. That guy will never return. Frankly, many of the complaints that Rockies fans have had towards Helton are very legitimate. His back issues have made his struggles unpredictable. His bat has slowed significantly and he probably shouldn't have been hitting in the middle of the lineup for as long as he did.
However, when he is feeling good, when his back in cooperating, Helton can still hit the way he always did. He can work a count, he can hit to the opposite field, and even has occasional pop like Sunday.
As much credit for the win as Helton should get, the reason the Rockies fly home with a win on Sunday is squarely because of the efforts of De La Rosa. After Helton launched his home run, the camera panned to De La Rosa, who had a smile draped across his face that couldn't be wiped away. He knew that the home run put him in a position to win his first game since May of 2011.
Heading into 2013, De La Rosa was a huge question mark for the Rockies. As good as he was in 2009, his career has been a roller coaster ride. He has battled his own thoughts throughout his career. At his best, he is a top of the rotation starter, at his worst, he is frustrating with his lack of confidence. After Tommy John surgery kept him off of the mound for a year and a half, how he would respond physically, but more importantly mentally, was the biggest question for De La Rosa.
De La Rosa's first two starts were a mixed bag. His first start in Milwaukee was good enough to keep his team in the game, but he was underwhelming. His next time out he was very good in San Francisco, with the exception of one pitch, which ended up as a three run Hunter Pence home run. On Sunday, it all came together. His curveball was sharp, his fastball had movement and he wasn't afraid to throw any pitch in any situation.
If the Rockies continue to see improvement from De La Rosa, their rotation is significantly better than anyone predicted.
As bad as the three game set was in San Francisco, the fact that the Rockies came back and swept the Padres speaks volumes about their character. Forget when and where the wins came, the Rockies would gladly have accepted a 3-3 road trip a week ago when they headed to California.
The 2012 Rockies would have been sent reeling after the sweep in San Francisco. Instead, the Rockies took an off-day and flushed it out of their memory and beat a team that they are better than three times.
The Rockies head home to start a four game set with the New York Mets. The hope is that the weather is different than predicted and they will be able to play games without cold and snow getting in the way.
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