Tag Archives: Todd Helton
One day after he turned back the clock, driving in six runs for the first time in 10 years, Todd Helton looked all of 40 years old Saturday night, striking out three times and putting off career hit No. 2,500 for another day.
“That’s this game,” he said after going 0-for-4 in the Reds’ 8-3 victory over the Rockies.
“I mean, the last two games is this game summed up. You can be great one day and have a hat trick the next. That’s just the way it goes. That’s why it’s so important to keep your emotions in check and show up the next day ready to play.”
The oddest part of it was the guy who handcuffed him and his teammates for eight innings.
Greg Reynolds is the biggest draft bust in Rockies history. The second overall pick in 2006, the 6-foot-7-inch Reynolds suffered a shoulder injury before getting to the big leagues and never was the power pitcher the Rocks thought they were getting when they passed on Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum to take him.
In two big league stints with the Rocks, Reynolds went 5-8 with a 7.47 earned-run average. Now 28, he pitched eight innings in his third start for the Reds, surrendering three runs and seven hits and earning his first big league win in more than two years. If it hadn’t been for a two-run homer by Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson in the eighth, his numbers would have been even better.
“He threw the ball well,” Helton said. “He threw about like I remember, he just didn’t make any mistakes and he didn’t have the cutter that he has now. That proved to be his best pitch tonight, at least to me, that cutter.”
Helton’s two three-run homers Friday night gave him 2,499 career hits. For his final at-bat Friday and each of his four plate appearances Saturday, the crowd at Coors Field gave him a standing ovation in anticipation of No. 2,500.
“I definitely feel it, but I like it,” Helton said. “I put so much pressure on myself to get a hit every time, it’s no different than the pressure I put on myself, but it proved to be a little tough tonight. That’s the beautiful thing about this game and the tragic thing about this game is one night you can be great and the next night you can do what I did. But that’s why you don’t get too high when things go good, and vice versa.”
In fact, 37,616 fans showed up Saturday for the opportunity to see a little history.
Helton got good wood on a Reynolds fastball in the second inning, driving it deep to left-center field, but he put enough air under it to allow Cincinnati center fielder Shin-Soo Choo time to range over and catch it.
Helton struck out in each of his final three at-bats, the first two against Reynolds and the third against reliever Sam LeCure in the ninth.
“He threw mostly fastballs, really,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said of Reynolds. “He two-seamed it and he cut it and he commanded it. But he did it almost exclusively with a couple different fastballs.”
Normally, Weiss rests Helton in day games following night games, which is the situation Sunday. But with Kershaw, arguably the best lefty in the game, scheduled to start at Coors for the Dodgers on Labor Day, there’s a pretty good chance Helton will start Sunday in the series finale against the Reds.
“Kershaw going Monday, so, yeah, exactly, that’s the coversation I’m going to have with him,” Weiss said Saturday night.
“I’m going to try,” Helton said. “I’m going to hopefully go home and get some rest and wake up and see how I feel. But, yeah, the plan is to play tomorrow.”
“If he’s good to go, sure, we’ll run him out there,” Weiss added, “but I’ll check with him, see how he’s doing.”
Everybody knows that Todd Helton used to play football, preceding Peyton Manning as the quarterback for the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
What you may not know is Manning used to play baseball. He was the shortstop at Isidore Newman School, the private high school he attended in New Orleans. But as he told the story Monday on the Dave Logan Show, even baseball became a way to get in extra football practice.
“All my receivers played baseball, so we’d go play baseball and then we’d keep our spikes on and go back to the school after the game and throw pass routes,” Manning said. “So it was a good transition from baseball to football.”
Watching his old friend Helton and the Rockies play at Coors Field has been one of the few diversions Manning has allowed himself during his intensive work at Dove Valley to get ready for the Broncos season. He attended Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers — a 3-2 Rockies win — and hung out with Helton for a bit in the clubhouse afterward.
“It’s been a lot of fun being in the same city with Todd,” Manning said. “He’s always supported me in a big way and I’ve been a huge fan of him. It’s kind of fun that he and I played at Tennessee together and we’re still kind of hanging around. I’m hoping the Rockies get on a little run here. I think they’re playing good as of late. Hopefully they can get Arizona and come back and get Anaheim this weekend.”
Hanging out in the Rockies clubhouse gave Manning an insight into the vast difference between preparing for 162 games a year, as the Rocks do, and preparing for 16, as the Broncos do.
“I will tell you one thing I am envious about,” he said. “That locker room in baseball, it’s so laid back. It has to be. I mean, 162 games. In football, if you smile before the game you get in trouble because you’re not focused. And there’s something to it. Obviously, they want to win, but it is a different atmosphere when it comes to that.”
Manning admitted to a little impatience with the strict rules in the new collective bargaining agreement governing practice time. Joining a new team, learning a new system and practicing with new teammates, he’d like all the practice time he can get.
“I’ve enjoyed the increased activities we’ve been allowed to do,” he said in the midst of the Broncos’ third set of organized team activities (OTAs). “I really haven’t left since I signed here back in March. At first, we weren’t even allowed to throw at the facility. We could only lift weights here. Then we could throw here with just players, no coaches. And then coaches could come on the field. And now, finally, we’re in these OTAs where we can go against the defense. We’ve got jerseys, we’ve got helmets, it feels like a football practice in a normal football environment.
“I think we’re getting good work done. We’re learning a lot, just trying to improve every day. So it’s been part of the process for me, but I’ve enjoyed being around the guys and getting to know them as people, but also getting to know them on the field as football players and timing and just getting comfortable.”
Following up on his mention of timing, I asked if he had any idea how long it might take to develop the sort of chemistry with his new receivers that he famously enjoyed with pass catchers such as Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark in Indianapolis for 13 seasons.
“It’s hard to give a date,” he said. “That certainly is something that we’re shooting for. Believe me, I’d like to have it down perfectly by tomorrow. Every time we throw an incompletion in practice, it’s not something that I want. I want to complete every single pass in practice. The only way I do know to get that timing is to push the comfort level out here in practice. To attempt passes, to try things. We’re getting great work going against some great guys in our secondary.
“It’s not something that happens overnight, but it is something that you can try to make happen overnight by just taking advantage of every repetition and every opportunity to meet, and after practice on your own. I threw some with (Demaryius) Thomas today after practice, trying to kind of grab a different guy to get some work.
“It’s hard to say when you can have it. I think one thing I’ve really tried to do is just not play any kind of comparisons to my years in Indy as far as receivers. It’s a different time and we’ve got different guys and we’re continuing to work to try to get our timing down. It’s a challenge that I look forward to trying to beat.”
Even after 13 years in the NFL, Manning said Denver reporters asked him a question after Monday’s workout he had never gotten before.
“People are passionate about their football,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, I had an all-time first today. I was being asked about some incompletions that we threw in practice. That’s just never happened to me before. That’s kind of like asking Todd why he didn’t hit more home runs in batting practice.”
Nevertheless, Manning found himself explaining why he might throw to a covered receiver in practice when someone else was open.
“In practice, we are working on certain things,” he said. “There are times when coach (Mike) McCoy will tell me, ‘Hey, I want you throw it to this guy no matter what. I want you to force this play in no matter what the defense does.’
“So you work on these things in practices. I can assure you I have no idea what my all-time statistics are in practice. That’s not a statistic anybody really wants to keep up with.”
For now, the Broncos are still installing plays, the first stage of getting a new offense down.
“You’re putting in new plays during this time and you’re running these plays for the first time against the defense,” Manning said. “You get to run them one time and you’d like to run it again and they say, ‘No, there’s another new play we have to run next.’
“So it is hard in these OTAs to master a play. That’s what I like about minicamp and especially in training camp, we’ll be able to repeat some of these plays that we put in and really try to get comfortable in learning everything about the play. Because really, to learn everything about a play, you really have to rep it a number of times. With the new rules and the limited amount of time you’re allowed on the practice field, there is a challenge in that. But it’s one that we’ll be able to still maneuver around.”
Between mastering the new playbook, his continuing injury rehab and acclimating himself to a new environment and new teammates, Manning hasn’t taken a lot of time off to check out the city or the state. He is a notorious workaholic, which may explain his four NFL most valuable player awards. But what he’s seen so far of the Broncos’ fan base confirms the impressions he formed as a visiting player.
“I really wish I had more time to experience it more,” he said. “People do ask me, ‘How do you like Denver?’ and I really can’t honestly tell them that I’ve had a chance to do some things that I want to do because I have spent so much time over here. The Rockies games have been the one little getaway that I have and I have been to a couple of benefits. I really don’t know it as well as I’d like to know it.
“All I can tell you is the people just couldn’t be any friendlier. There’s a great sense of hospitality here from the people. People really love this city. One thing I have learned is I’ve met a lot of people who really aren’t from here originally but moved here at different points in their lives. Take John Lynch, take Brandon Stokley, some other non-athletes that live here, and just how much they fell in love with it once they moved here. So I think that speaks a lot about the city and the people.
“From the football standpoint, I can just tell from the times that I’ve played out here how passionate these people are about their football. That’s the kind of environment that you want to play in as an athlete. Denver’s always had that passion and I’m hoping I can do my part and be a part of it. That’s why I’m working so hard, so hopefully we can give these fans something to cheer about.”
Sunday’s in-game conversation on Twitter was all about the Rockies needing to do something dramatic to get out of a funk that dropped them to 15-25 on the season as the lowly Seattle Mariners completed a three-game sweep with a 6-4 victory at Coors Field.
Fire somebody. Rewrite the lineup. Something.
The post-game conversation in the clubhouse was all about the Rockies as currently constituted needing to get it together in a hurry.
“There’s no Lombardi speech you can give,” said veteran Jason Giambi. “We’ve just got to try to win one game and make it that simple. I mean, we can’t play any worse than we have. We need to pick it up and win tomorrow. And then win the next day. I think we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
Manager Jim Tracy was more succinct:
“Obviously, we’re in a rut, and we have to dig ourselves out,” he said. “That’s what we have to do. We’ve got 122 chances to do it.”
That would be the number of games remaining on the schedule. So there’s plenty of time, but the trend is not their friend. The Rocks were 12-12 on May 2. Since then, they are 3-13.
Todd Helton, who saw his batting average fall to .219 on Sunday, stood at home plate in the bottom of the ninth with the tying runs on base and two out. He struck out for the third consecutive time to end the game. I asked him afterward what the strike three pitch was.
“A fastball right down the middle,” he said. “It was about the only pitch I saw all day that I felt like I was on. I was waiting to hear a sound and I never did.”
Tracy said it was just a slump, like the one right fielder Michael Cuddyer was in (0-for-13 on the homestand) before breaking out with a single and two doubles Sunday. But when you’re three months from your 39th birthday, as Helton is, every slump comes with additional questions: Is this it? Remember Dale Murphy? Should the Rocks be anticipating the end by moving somebody else into the No. 5 hole in the lineup?
Then again, the No. 4 hitter isn’t doing much better, and he’s only 27. Nearly two months into the season, Troy Tulowitzki has four homers and 16 RBI.
“I don’t think Troy’s in a very good place right now offensively,” Tracy said of his shortstop, who came up with two on and one out in the ninth, just before Helton, and hit a harmless ground ball to third.
The Rocks got three-hit days from Carlos Gonzalez and Cuddyer but did not benefit from any compounding effect because they were separated in the lineup by the combined 0-for-8 of Tulo and Helton. CarGo and Cuddyer never came up in the same inning.
Hence my own modest proposal, Cuddyer’s recent slump notwithstanding: Move Tulo and Helton down in the order until they get their swings back. Move Cuddyer into the No. 4 hole and Tyler Colvin into the No. 5 hole, at least against right-handers, as long as he’s hitting well.
“It’s just hard to smile right now,” said Gonzalez, who had a single, double and home run out of the No. 3 hole to increase his team-leading totals to eight jacks and 32 RBI.
“It doesn’t matter what you do out there. Not being able to win is difficult. It’s tough for me, it’s tough for everyone else in this clubhouse. We’re a talented team but we’re just not playing really good baseball. We need to start playing better defensively. We’re making little mistakes that cost runs. At the end of the game, that’s when you see the difference. All those runs that we give away, that costs you at the end of the game.”
Sunday, it was a botched defense against a stolen base attempt in the first inning. With Mariners leadoff man Dustin Ackley on third, cleanup man Kyle Seager on first and two out, Seager took off for second. Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario let loose with a wild throw to the shortstop side of the bag. Ackley broke from third. Second baseman Marco Scutaro came off the bag to spear the errant throw, then let loose a wild throw of his own back to the plate. It sailed wide of Rosario and Seattle had its first run. The Mariners plated another two-out run with a walk and a single before the Rocks finally escaped the top of the first, trailing 2-0.
When I asked Gonzalez what else he was referring to, he pointed out the team’s usual problems playing fundamental baseball.
“If there’s a guy on second base, we can’t be making big swings instead of just moving the runner,” he said. “That’s a free run for us. We always push the pedal at the end, but we’re going to fall short if we don’t do that early in the game. We had a couple opportunities with a runner on second and if you don’t get that guy to third base with no outs, you’re making it a lot more difficult for the guy right next to you. It’s always going to be that way if you don’t play smart baseball. That’s what I mean saying we need to play better baseball.”
Two cases Sunday fit his description. Cuddyer singled and stole second leading off the bottom of the second. Rosario followed with a big swing strikeout and Cuddyer never advanced beyond second. Eric Young Jr. singled and stole second leading off the fifth. Scutaro pulled a ground ball to short and Young had to stay put. He never advanced beyond second, either. Find a way to small-ball those runners home and the two runs the Rocks scored in the ninth are enough to tie it.
Which brings us to the starting pitching, the Rockies’ black hole so far. It let them down again Sunday. Away from Coors Field, veteran Jeremy Guthrie has been all general manager Dan O’Dowd hoped he would be (2-0, 1.86 ERA) when he acquired him from Baltimore last winter. At Coors Field, after Sunday’s outing, he is 0-2 with a 9.92 ERA.
Everybody knows about the challenges of pitching at high altitude, so I asked Guthrie if Coors Field presents problems for him.
“I haven’t pitched very well here so I can’t necessarily judge it by the field,” he said. “I just know I haven’t executed nearly enough pitches when I’ve pitched here, both falling behind guys and making poor pitches ahead in the count.”
Not sure if he understood the question, I asked if it’s harder to execute his pitches at Coors.
“It doesn’t seem any harder,” he said. “I mean, I haven’t done it as consistently as I have in the past, but I don’t know that it’s inherently any more difficult to do it here than it would be at another mound. It’s pretty much the same game.”
Many of the fixes that unhappy fans want wouldn’t necessarily change anything immediately. Fire Tracy, fire O’Dowd, fire pitching coach Bob Apodaca. It is the players on this year’s roster that are putting up the season’s dreary numbers, and you can’t fire them; at least, not all of them.
When O’Dowd fired Clint Hurdle in 2009, it was just six games later in the year (they were 18-28). But it was Hurdle’s eighth season at the helm and O’Dowd decided his voice had grown stale in the clubhouse. Tracy is in just his fourth season and there is no sign the front office has similar fears about him.
Firing Apodaca would suggest management believes the team’s pitching woes track back to the pitching coach. Fans tend to give coaches much more responsibility for players’ performances than team officials, who know just how often players pay attention to coaches and just how often they don’t. Still, if the club decides unhappy fans need a gesture, Apodaca might be the sacrificial lamb. The Rocks do have the worst team ERA in the National League.
Blaming O’Dowd makes the most sense because he assembled the roster that has performed so poorly so far. But front office firings seldom occur during the season and it’s only fair to point out that O’Dowd also built the Rockies teams that went to the playoffs two out of the past five seasons.
So for now, it’s on the players O’Dowd assembled. At 38, can Helton bounce back? At 27, will Tulowitzki ever learn to play within himself? Will some combination of young starting pitchers figure it out as the season goes on?
“We’re not playing well,” Helton said. “You’re obviously going to put more pressure on yourself to go out and win some games. We just need to start playing a little better. There’s no other way to put it.”
Hope is winning the argument now because there’s not that much of significance you can change during the season. But if hope doesn’t pan out, change is coming.
Make all the old man jokes you want. The Rockies have played five home games on the young season. Jamie Moyer, 49, has given them their longest start at Coors Field. And Todd Helton, 38, has provided the margin of victory the last two nights with clutch late-inning heroics.
For all their talent and youth, the kids could learn something from these old-timers.
For much of Saturday night, it looked as though the Rocks would finally pay for the inability of any starting pitcher other than Moyer to make it to the fifth inning.
Monday, in the home opener, Jhoulys Chacin started and pitched four innings. After a day off Tuesday, Jeremy Guthrie started Wednesday and lasted only 3 1/3. Moyer started Thursday and went 5 2/3. Juan Nicasio started Friday and managed just 2 2/3.
The bullpen handled all this with aplomb. It pitched 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball in relief of Nicasio as the offense erased a 6-2 deficit. It pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Moyer. In fact, the bullpen had a collective earned-run average of 1.71 going into Saturday night’s monsoon.
But when no starter manages to go six innings all week, it catches up to you eventually. So the Rocks were encouraged when Chacin showed up with better command Saturday night than he had in the home opener Monday. He was far from dominant, but he fought through four innings, giving up one run and throwing 64 pitches in a steady rain that had delayed the start of the game for sixteen minutes.
With the Rocks leading 5-1 and three outs from an official game, umpire Mike Winters called for the tarpaulin. Seventy-one minutes of rain delay later, Chacin’s night was done and the bullpen was looking at yet another short start.
“The third and fourth inning was really hard raining and the fifth was pretty much the same, I think it was slower than it was in the third or fourth, so I didn’t know why they called it,” Chacin said afterward.
“The very unfortunate thing for us was the fact that the game was stopped after the fourth inning,” manager Jim Tracy added. “And the amount of time that we were down, obviously we lose Jhoulys. And if you back up to yesterday, you got 2 2/3 from the starter yesterday. And if you go back to Opening Day, we had a short start.”
Esmil Rogers and Rex Brothers had each pitched the two previous nights. Matt Belisle had pitched Friday night and two of the previous three. So when play resumed Tracy went with Josh Roenicke, who promptly surrendered a three-run homer to Arizona’s Miguel Montero. As the rain resumed its steady beat, Tracy was forced to call on Belisle again, trying to nurse the one-run lead that remained, thinking the game might be called anytime.
“That’s our job, is to take the ball when we’re asked,” Belisle said. “The biggest thing is the preparation before and the expectation and anticipation that we may have to do this instead of sitting around going, ‘Oh, gosh, we’re in there again?’ In other words, honing the edge a little bit with how much we throw before the game, monitoring that and just understanding that we may have to pick up some innings.”
Matt Reynolds and Belisle would have gotten through the sixth, but Troy Tulowitzki committed two throwing errors, losing his grip on two wet balls. One of the resulting baserunners scored, tying the game. From there, the Diamondbacks managed another run off of Brothers, pitching for a third straight day, in the seventh. They put up another off Tyler Chatwood in the eighth.
The Rocks had been three outs from two straight wins over the division favorites and a .500 record. Now they were looking at a 7-5 deficit with time running out. On a dank, miserable night, it looked like they were going to get a miserable result.
They got one back in the eighth on a single by Tyler Colvin, who had homered earlier, and a double by Eric Young Jr. But as they entered the bottom of the ninth, the rain cascading down nearly five hours after the scheduled 6:05 start, they still trailed by one. On the mound was Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz, who held the longest active save streak in the majors, 28 straight, dating to last July.
Trying to come inside to leadoff man Marco Scutaro, Putz hit him in the shoulder. Scutaro, 36, went down, then scrambled quickly to his feet and sprinted to first pumping his fist and looking into the home dugout as if to tell his mates they weren’t finished yet.
But Jason Giambi popped out and Tulowitzki struck out. As Helton approached the plate, he represented the Rocks’ last chance.
“I was just trying to get a grip on the bat at that point,” he said. “It was raining pretty hard at the time.”
Putz’s 1-1 offering was a fastball up and in. Helton turned on it and lifted a towering fly ball down the right field line. Arizona right fielder Justin Upton ran to the corner and set up to catch it. At the last minute he flung his head back, watching it nestle into the stands above him just inside the foul pole. Helton jumped for joy and his teammates streamed out of the dugout in the pouring rain to greet him at home plate.
“I didn’t think I hit it out,” he said. “I thought I hit it a little too high. But I’ll take it.”
“When he hit that ball, I couldn’t believe he kept it fair,” said Belisle, one of Helton’s closest friends on the team. “And then seeing him round those bases, I was just smiling ear to ear. I know that after that rain delay, coming back up, mentally it can be a struggle sometimes. But he’s a big game player and he’s been swinging the bat really well. I don’t think he’s faced Putz that much. It was just an incredible swing by a great player.”
It was also the second straight night that Helton delivered the game-winner. His eighth-inning double Friday night off Arizona’s Bryan Shaw drove in Carlos Gonzalez to break a 6-6 tie.
“Yeah, what about that?” Helton said in his usual deadpan. “I keep it in perspective. There’ll be days where I don’t get the big hit.”
If the Rocks end up contending this year, this will be one of those early-season mettle testers to remember. On a nasty night, after a week in which the bullpen had picked up the starting rotation time after time, the relievers finally faltered and the offense picked them up.
Indeed, a lineup featuring such golden oldies as Helton, Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez went into Saturday night’s game second in the National League in batting.
“It’s the whole old-school meaning of team,” Belisle said. “It’s what we do, and we’ll have to do it again. The great thing about our group is there’s no egos, so whatever Skip needs us to do, we’ll do.”
Skip was suitably impressed.
“That’s a great win,” Tracy said. “I’ve seen signs of this from this club, and I mean that. They have a moxie about them.”
In his sixteenth season, Helton leads the Rocks in RBIs in the early going with eight. This game had nowhere near the significance of the nightcap against the Dodgers on Sept. 18, 2007 when a similar walkoff homer against Takashi Saito helped launch the Rockies’ miraculous run to the World Series. But Helton’s celebration on the base path and the mob that greeted him at home plate were reminiscent of that night.
Informed he had shown that sort of emotion again, Helton replied, characteristically, “Yeah, sorry about that.”
“I was giving him a little joshing for that, too,” he said. “It’s a big knock in a big game. I’m glad that everybody’s putting emotion and focus into each game. I don’t care if it’s April. Win every night.”
Throughout their twenty-year history, the Rockies have been an above-average entertainment value in home openers.
There was the unforgettable first one, for example. Everyone remembers Eric Young hitting a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, as if christening big league baseball in Colorado by smashing a bottle of champagne on the hull. Not everyone remembers Charlie Hayes hitting a two-run shot later that same inning on the way to a raucous 11-4 win over the Expos before an astonishing crowd of 80,227 at Mile High Stadium
Two years later, in another christening, they opened their new ballpark, Coors Field, with a four-hour, 49-minute, fourteen-inning marathon against the Mets. Down 9-8 in the bottom of the 14th, Dante Bichette hit a walk-off three-run homer that sent the most loyal among the sellout crowd of 47,228 — those who had not found an excuse to retreat from the cold — deliriously into the night.
In 2001, Mike Hampton pitched 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball to lead an 8-0 shutout of the Cardinals, providing temporary (and false, as it turned out) hope about the results of the team’s most expensive free agent signing of all time.
Four years after that, the Rocks delivered another walk-off in their opening act, a two-out, two-run homer by Clint Barmes in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Padres 12-10.
The next year, 2006, brought yet another walk-off win when Brad Hawpe drove in Matt Holliday in the bottom of the 11th to earn a 3-2 win over the Diamondbacks.
And two years ago, they cruised to an Opening Day 7-0 shutout over the Padres behind Jorge De La Rosa.
In all, the Rocks were 11-8 in home openers going into Monday’s 20th edition, and 8-4 since 2000.
So, all things considered, the twentieth curtain-raising was their lamest ever. For one thing, they had never failed to score in a home opener before the Giants’ 7-0 whitewash.
On a gorgeous Colorado spring afternoon, before a full house ready to rock Coors Field, the Rocks looked curiously unprepared to play, as if informed a game had been scheduled just minutes before it began. They made Giants starter Barry Zito look worthy of his seven-year, $126 million contract, which is otherwise considered one of the ten worst contracts in baseball history. At an altitude where breaking balls come to die, Zito’s curve ball completely baffled the Rocks. In fact, this was Zito’s first shutout in nine years and his first in the National League.
“Obviously, he pitched a good game,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. “He got a lot of weak pop flies, kept us off balance. But we’ve got to put together better at-bats, and I think we will. I think nerves were a little involved. Hopefully the next game we’ll come out relaxed and swing the bats better.”
It wasn’t just the bats, although, admittedly, it’s hard to win when you don’t score. It was, as Mike Shanahan used to say, all three phases.
“We didn’t pitch well early in the game, we weren’t able to do a whole lot offensively and we had a miscue that helped lead to a three-run fifth inning,” manager Jim Tracy said, summing up the general incompetence succinctly. “I think tone to a game and tempo to a game is obviously very, very important, and the tempo that we set in the early part of the game was not good. Jhoulys (Chacin) struggled with his command throughout the time that he was out there.”
The Rockies’ winningest pitcher a year ago (11-14), Chacin threw 90 pitches in four innings, barely more than half of them (47) strikes. After leaving a pitch over the middle of the plate in the first and watching Pablo Sandoval airmail it into the right field stands for a two-run homer, he seemed to want nothing to do with the plate. He walked three batters in a row in the third, which turned the inning’s only hit, a single to right by catcher Hector Sanchez, into two more runs.
“The first two innings I feel pretty good,” Chacin said. “The third inning I just lost my focus and I was rushing all the pitches, my breaking ball and my fastball especially. I couldn’t get the ball to the plate and I walked a lot of guys in that inning . . . It’s a good thing I’ve got 30, 31 starts to go. I’m not going togive it up after one start.”
Meanwhile, the Rockies were batting as if hypnotized by Zito’s breaking balls. They lunged, they dove, they popped the ball in the air. The eight position players went down in order in the first three innings. The first of their four hits was a mighty twelve-foot nubber down the third-base line by Chacin himself. Marco Scutaro followed with a two-out single to center. This, it turned out, was their big rally of the day. Dexter Fowler fanned to end it.
The Rocks have now scored ten runs in four games. When I asked Tracy about this, he urged patience.
“I think it’s four games into the season and I think rather than push any kind of panic button or anything like that, we’re probably not the only club in baseball that right now is trying to find its way a little bit offensively,” he said. “I think the cure for that is to keep allowing a bunch of professional hitters to go up there and take at-bats and at some point in time, I guarantee you, we’ll get that squared away. There’s too many good hitters in this lineup for it to continue, in my opinion, for an extended period of time.”
For the sake of the paying customers, he’d better be right. Even prognosticators who didn’t think much of the Rockies’ chances this season thought they’d hit. Through four games, third baseman Chris Nelson is 0-for-10. Fowler is 1-for-11. Helton is 1-for-12. The team’s stars, left fielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are batting .176 (3-for-17) and .214 (3-for-14), respectively.
“I actually felt good today,” said Helton, who went 0-for-4. “I know it didn’t show. Third at-bat it was tough to see. The shadows came into play. Fourth at-bat you could see. Put a couple good swings on the ball, but, you know, get ’em tomorrow.”
To complete Shanahan’s trifecta, the Rockies didn’t field well, either. The cherry on the Giants’ sundae was a three-run fifth against reliever Matt Reynolds that was built on a pair of errors — a dropped pop fly to short left by CarGo and a throw in the dirt to second from the hole between short and third by Tulo.
That’s six errors in four games, which is not a good ratio. Last year, they committed 98 in 162 and ranked ninth in the National League.
So, yes, it was only one game, but it was the sort of debut that can close a Broadway show in its first week. The sellout crowd of 49,282 booed the home team early and often.
The Rockies’ hardest-hit ball of the day was a foul line drive off the bat of Michael Cuddyer that hit Judith Reese, a woman celebrating her 69th birthday in the stands down the third-base line, in the head. The game was stopped so Reese could be removed on a cart normally reserved for injured players. Thankfully, she was treated for a concussion and released later in the day from Denver Health.
“I want to thank the fans, the paramedics and the community for their instant support,” she said, according to a news release by the hospital.
All in all, the opener was not exactly what the team marketing officer was going for.
“Yeah, it is disappointing,” Helton said. “Obviously, you want to go out and have a good showing Opening Day, and we didn’t do that. But in the end it is one game. We get a day off (Tuesday). It’ll be tough to sleep tonight, but after that you’ve just got to wash it off. It’s just one game. But yeah, with the excitement, the fans in the stands, it’d be nice to put together a better game.”
They’ll come back with Jeremy Guthrie against Giants ace Tim Lincecum on Wednesday. The early results don’t mean much for the outcome of the long season — the Rocks started 11-2 last year and finished 16 games below .500 — but a few signs of life would be nice.