Braves slip in loss to Rockies

AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP)That’s the Todd Helton of old.

Usually that term’s been used in front of his name during his summer of struggles at the plate.

Helton capped his first four-hit game in more than a year with a
tiebreaking RBI single off lefty Jonny Venters in the eighth inning
Monday night that lifted the Colorado Rockies to a 5-4 win over the
Atlanta Braves.

“I don’t know if it’s
satisfaction or surprise,” Helton said of his first four-hit night
since July 16, 2009, against San Diego.

Helton dribbled a single over second base to score Carlos Gonzalez from
second and make a winner of reliever Rafael Betancourt (4-1), who gave
up the tying run in the top of the eighth.

Huston Street got the final three outs for his 11th save in 15 chances.

Venters fell to 4-1.

Helton is starting to break out of a season-long slump this month —
he’s hitting .308 (16-for-52) since coming off the DL on Aug. 3, and
Monday night he raised his season batting average 10 points to .257.

Two pitches before his game-winner, he was knocked down by a wayward 97
mph fastball from Venters that glanced off his bat. Venters then
buckled Helton’s knees with an inside curveball before leaving another
heater out over the plate.

“It woke me up
a little bit, right at my head, sinking in,” Helton said of the
fastball that whizzed by his face. “It was almost a career changer.”

And the fastball he hit up the middle was just as nasty.

“The guy’s throwing 97 and it’s sinking all over the place,” Helton
said. “I knew he was going to throw me a fastball. It was just a matter
if I could hit it or not. There wasn’t much I could do with that, just
put it in play and hopefully find a hole. Not a comfortable at-bat, no.”

Rockies manager Jim Tracy, who won his 700th career game, lauded Helton for his nerve to stay in there after getting dirtied.

Pshaw, said Helton.

“Yeah, I was pulling off a little bit. You saw the breaking ball before
that. If he’d have thrown that for a strike, I’d have been out,” Helton
said. “But I knew he was going to throw a fastball because his
fastball’s that good.”

Braves catcher Brian McCann was thoroughly impressed by Helton.

“We were calling a sinker in but he kept his hands in nice and did the
only thing you could do with it and drive it up the middle,” McCann
said. “A 96-mph sinker, going for a double play there. Tip your hat.”

McCann said the Braves’ scouting report on Helton certainly doesn’t dismiss the 37-year-old first baseman as washed up.

“Todd Helton, check his numbers,” McCann said. “He puts together great
at-bats all the time. We knew coming in that he’s a guy that can swing
a bat and on any given night do what he did tonight.”

“He’s swinging better than he was, that’s for sure,” Braves manager Bobby Cox concurred. “His back’s gotten better, I guess.

“Yeah, it reminds me of what he used to be.”

The Rockies, too.

Helton’s teammates insist they haven’t ever lost faith in their veteran leader like so many of their fans have.

“He’s Todd Helton,” Rockies starter Jason Hammel said. “You don’t have
to say anything. He’ll find a way to get it done, whether he’s not
feeling comfortable or he’s hurting, you’re not going to see it and
he’ll come up there and give you quality at-bats.”

Hammel was in line for his first win at Coors Field since July 10 and
Tim Hudson was on the hook for his first loss since July 17 until
Betancourt gave up a two-out RBI single to Alex Gonzalez at tied it at

Colorado jumped out to a 3-0 lead on
Gonzalez’s RBI double in the third and Ian Stewart’s 18th homer
following a double by Helton in the fourth.

Martin Prado trimmed it to 3-2 with his own two-run shot an inning
later, putting a tomahawk swing on a high, 1-2 fastball and sending it
into the rock pile in center field.

ball that Prado hit, he’s got to be the greatest hitter ever,” Hammel
said. “It was a great pitch. I don’t know how you hit 95 at the eyes,
especially when I just went there. You’ve got to be expecting curveball
there, so I tip my cap. I was shocked.”

Many of the 34,172 in the crowd at Coors Field might be saying the same thing about Helton’s night.

Helton’s third hit was an RBI single in the sixth that made it 4-2
before Rick Ankiel made it a one-run game again when he led off the
seventh with his first homer since Atlanta acquired him from Kansas
City on July 31.

Helton’s double leading off the fourth was the 523rd of his career,
tying him with Willie Mays for 37th all-time. … Hudson has not lost
in his last seven starts.

Updated August 23, 2010