Helton's turbulent year finds elation

Turbulent start ends with elation

DENVER -- Sunday was Fan Appreciation Day at Coors Field, and a few lucky Rockies fans received T-shirts and merchandise that players tossed into the stands at day's end. Yet, everyone received the biggest gift -- seeing veteran first baseman Todd Helton bounding across the infield.

Helton went 2-for-3, walked and scored in the pivotal eighth inning, and celebrated harder than anyone at the end of a 4-3 victory over the Diamondbacks to force a one-game showdown with the Padres and Cy Young Award favorite Jake Peavy on Monday at Coors Field.

The winner will meet the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in the National League Division Series starting on Wednesday.

"It's that time of year," said Helton, who has been with the Rockies since late 1997 -- two years after the team's only previous playoff appearance. "It all counts. We're playing good baseball. It's very exciting. I'm going to let it all out."

To think much of the discussion going into this season centered on the Rockies finding a way to do without Helton. Last winter, the Rockies had discussions with the Angels and had Helton's permission to work a trade with the Red Sox.

But during the remarkable run of 13 victories in the last 14 games, it's hard to imagine the Rockies without him in the cleanup spot and at first base.

During the stretch, he has hit .386 (22-for-57), with the only loss -- Friday night to the Diamondbacks -- coming in the only game in which he did not have a hit. Helton is batting .320 with a .434 on-base percentage, 16 home runs and 89 RBIs, not to mention defense worthy of a Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

Now, no one talks of his $16.6 million salary for this season or the fact he's signed through 2011 at great cost to a small-to-middle-market payroll.

His only task is to lead a squad that has other capable players, such as NL Most Valuable Player candidate Matt Holliday in left field, NL Rookie of the Year candidate Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and clutch-hitting right fielder Brad Hawpe.

Helton, who enters Monday 2-for-6 with a double this season and 12-for-35 (.343) with six doubles and two homers lifetime against Peavy, might have tried to touch the sky at the end of Sunday's game but he knows he'll have to come down to avoid being grounded on Monday.

"We still haven't finished it," he said. "One hundred and sixty-three games -- it all comes down to tomorrow. We'll see what happens."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.