9/29/2013 10:20 P.M. ET
Helton closes 17-year career on his terms
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- The swing was hard and loud, accompanied by a football-style grunt.
And, yes, it was empty. But that wasn't the point. With 2,519 hits, 592 doubles to rank 16th all-time, 998 extra-base hits and 369 home runs, Todd Helton will not be remembered for the strikeout against the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen in the final at-bat of a 17-season career.
But the final swing at Jansen's 94-mph cut fastball on a 1-2 count, in the ninth inning of a 2-1 Rockies victory, was him giving the game every bit of heart, energy and optimism one final time.
Helton is 40 and he's ready to walk away, especially because he wanted to be a regular player or nothing at all. Could he have repurposed himself as a pinch-hitter and squeezed out more season, the way former teammate Jason Giambi did in Colorado and will be doing in the postseason in Cleveland? Of course. But spending time with his wife and two daughters -- while also traveling, hunting and ranching -- trumps that, as far as he is concerned.
"It's better to be out there hacking and striking out than sitting on the bench," Helton said. "I'd rather go down swinging, if that's the way I'm going to go down. So it doesn't bother me at all that I struck out in my last at-bat.
"Jansen's a good pitcher. I had one thing on my mind, and that was trying to go deep. But I'm fine with it."
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit cleanup, which gave him an on-deck circle view of Helton's final day, a 1-for-4 performance with a walk. His hit was a single off Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, which set up Tulowitzki's RBI single. Tulowitzki admitted savoring all of Helton's at-bats.
"I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, standing on deck, getting to watch him in his last couple of at-bats, being out there on the field with him," Tulowitzki said. "But I just enjoyed his company this last week or so, especially for this last game. He wanted to get a hit, but at the same time he went down swinging.
"Not too many guys get to go out on their own terms. It's a very low percentage. What a teammate. What a career. What a way to end."
Helton finished his 2013 season with a .249 batting average, 22 doubles, 15 home runs and 61 RBIs in 124 games. He underwent labrum surgery on his right hip last winter and had a knee cleanup procedure as well, and he realized his goals of making it through the season and staying in the Rockies' lineup.
Helton was honored and applauded throughout his final homestand at Coors Field, and he responded by going 13-for-38 (.342) with two home runs -- one in his final home game Wednesday against the Red Sox's Jake Peavy -- and nine RBIs. At Dodger Stadium over the weekend, he was 1-for-11. But the Rockies won two of three from the National League West champions.
"Wednesday night I was probably a little emotionally spent after that night, and then having to get up for three more games because that actually felt like the finale," Helton said. "So this was tough, but at least I was able to sneak out a hit, and we got a couple of wins.
"It happens pretty quick. I mean, you always wish you could slow down and enjoy it a little bit more. But in the long run, it's part of it. You're out there battling, and that makes it go pretty quick. It's been a great run, and I've accomplished more in this game than I ever thought. I've learned more than I ever thought, by just going out and playing the game. It's been a lot of fun."
Hustle helps Cuddyer hold NL batting title
LOS ANGELES -- All was decided long before the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer stepped into the batter's box in the fifth inning Sunday. Yet, it mattered.
No matter the result, Dodger Stadium was going to be the site of an on-field pep rally as the boys in Dodger Blue prepared for the playoffs. The Rockies would finish last in the National League West. And no matter what happened with that at-bat against the Dodgers' Ricky Nolasco, Cuddyer had sewn up his first NL batting title.
Yet, when Cuddyer hit a slow ground ball that Dodgers shortstop Michael Young had to backhand, Cuddyer responded the only way he knew -- to bust his buttons dashing down the first-base line. The infield hit on a 1-for-5 day was the last of the 162 hits he used to fashion a .331 batting average. The Braves' Chris Johnson, who did not play Sunday, finished second at .321.
"No question, that's the way it should have gone," Cuddyer said with a laugh.
Cuddyer, 34, entered the season with a .271 career batting average with the Twins (2001-11) and the Rockies (2012). In some respects, this season was not much different. He finished with 20 home runs, 31 doubles and three triples for 54 extra-base hits. He had 48 last year, when an oblique injury cost him the final two months and limited him to 101 games. He also had 51 in 2011, 56 in 2010 and a career-best 73 in 2009.
But this season, he piled up the singles. A habit of dashing hard out of the batter's box always puts him in position to reach on infield balls, like the one Sunday. But he dashes out of the box the same, no matter how hard his hits. This year, the successes happened to add up.
"It's more singles -- a lot more singles," said Cuddyer, who had a club-record 27-game hit streak from May 28 to June 30. "I don't know what to attribute that to. It just happened. My approach didn't change. Nothing really changed. For some reason, I got more singles."
Teammates appreciated Cuddyer's work. On the day when they said heartfelt goodbyes to first baseman Todd Helton, who is ending his 17-year career, they paused after the game to give a postgame clubhouse ovation to Cuddyer, who most likely will play more first base than outfield next season.
"It was really cool," Cuddyer said. "Obviously they are as much a part of this as I am. It's a special day for all of us."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Cuddyer was rewarded for his leadership and hustle.
"It's really cool when you see the game reward guys like that," Weiss said.
Cuddyer became the sixth Rockies player to win a batting title. He joins Andres Galarraga (1993), Larry Walker (1998-99, 2001), Helton (2000) and Carlos Gonzalez (2010).
At the start of next season, Cuddyer will receive from Louisville Slugger the sterling-plated Silver Bat, which is 34 inches long and will be engraved with Cuddyer's statistics in a ceremony at Coors Field.
With it, Cuddyer may receive some criticism, because Rockies offensive statistics are often discounted because of the offense-friendly reputation of Coors Field. Though Cuddyer hit .356 at Coors Field, he also managed a .313 average on the road.
"I guarantee you this is the highest I've ever hit on the road, so I don't think you can bring the Coors Field factor into it too much," he said.
Cuddyer missed two weeks early with a neck issue, and he battled bruised ribs, a severe cold that cost him a few games and, earlier this month, a left wrist sprain that made the final days painful. But he hit .385 (30-for-78) in September.
"I remember 2009, I think I hit 10 or 12 home runs in September and October to help [the Twins] get into the playoffs," Cuddyer said. "So I typically feel like I finish strong most seasons."
• Veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt, who joined the club in May and struggled through a left hamstring injury and an 0-6 record with an 8.90 ERA, has talked to the Rockies about being invited to camp next season. Oswalt, a free agent, believes with a full offseason he could compete for a rotation spot, but he'll shut it down if his body doesn't respond this winter. Oswalt said if he doesn't make the rotation, he would give the bullpen a shot but would prefer a defined role over middle relief.
• Manager Walt Weiss will return to Denver for two days, then go to Scottsdale, Ariz., to observe players in fall instructional ball.
• All-Star left fielder Carlos Gonzalez will go to instructional ball in Scottsdale this week to test his sprained right middle finger with game at-bats. How it responds will determine whether he undergoes surgery or goes with rest and rehab during the offseason. If there is an operation, Gonzalez wants to have it by Nov. 1 so his Spring Training will not be delayed.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.