Helton's homer ends nail-biter with Bucs
Rockies get 15th win in last 16 games in walk-off fashion
DENVER -- Todd Helton's jubilant jog had him about 30 feet from home plate when he removed his batting helmet, gave a gentle flip and lept into the midst of a Rockies celebration on Saturday night.Helton's two-run, no-doubter off Jesse Chavez into the Pirates' bullpen with one out in the bottom of the ninth gave the Rockies their 15th victory in their last 16 games, 9-7 over the Pirates at Coors Field before 32,137. No Purple Pinstripe could honestly deny thinking back to 2007. Helton's magical home run off the Dodgers' Takashi Saito was one of the early golden nights in the Rocktember preamble to Rocktober -- an unreal 21-of-22 run that turned the Rockies from also-rans to National League champs, and sent T-shirts and merchandise flying. But that night, Helton wailed and flung his helmet into the September night and the mosh pit with the teammates had to have jiggled the Richter scale. Helton admitted the force of his 438-foot homer, his ninth homer of the season, felt "surreal." And Chris Iannetta's three-run homer in the eighth to tie the game created the spirit of '07. But a marketer would be insane to push Rockjune. The Rockies' current run puts them two above .500 and gives them license to dream, but that's as far as it goes. "Oh no, no at all," Helton said when asked whether the Saito homer flashed in his mind. "I was just enjoying the moment." Manager Jim Tracy, 17-5 since taking over for Clint Hurdle on May 29, has contributed in tangible ways. For example: Tracy committed to Ian Stewart at third base, and on Saturday, Stewart finished a single shy of a cycle on a night that included his team-leading 13th home run and three RBIs. Tracy's confidence in righty reliever Joel Peralta led to a stunning eighth inning -- with the Rockies down three runs -- in which the pitcher cut down a runner at third on a bunt play, picked one off at second and struck out Eric Hinske. Tracy finagled his bench and had pinch-hit specialist Seth Smith available to single off Chavez (0-3) in front of Helton in the ninth. But Tracy deferred to the players' knowledge of what was possible. "I said the other day when the winning streak had reached 11 straight that the manager was in uncharted waters, very definitely," Tracy said. "But this group of baseball players, several of them in there, they were not." Huston Street (2-1) worked an Andy LaRoche infield grounder with runners at the corners to pitch a scoreless top of the ninth and complete a bullpen job that started bad but finished better. Matt Daley replaced starter Jason Hammel (five runs, eight hits in six innings) and gave up a three-run double to Andrew McCutchen and an RBI single to Nyjer Morgan in the seventh to drop the lead. Alan Embree also gave up a run to make it 7-4. But Peralta gave the Rockies a chance to turn the game on its head. Pirates reliever John Grabow walked Brad Hawpe, fanned Troy Tulowitzki and Stewart, and yielded Gonzalez's single. Grabow had two strikes on Iannetta, then threw an outside fastball instead of going inside, and the ball landed over the center-field wall for Iannetta's 10th homer of the year. Suddenly, the game was tied, and the Rockies don't lose that kind of game these days. "Instead of waiting something bad to happen, we're waiting for something good to happen," Iannetta said. Smith admitted he was "trying to hit a home run" until Chavez had him 0-2, then he simply singled extend his pinch-hit on-base percentage to (.556) and give Helton his shot. Stewart said seeing Helton up created "a calmness in the dugout." Helton recalled Chavez striking him out on May 16 by blowing a fastball by him. Saturday, Chavez accomplished a called strike and a foul ball on fastballs. Let's say the veteran Helton was sure what was coming and surprised himself with how thoroughly he crushed it the 91 mph fastball. "That doesn't happen too often, so that's a great feeling," Helton said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.