Jack Dempsey/Associated Press
DENVER – Todd Helton insisted the credit for Colorado’s comeback should go to the Rockies’ brilliant bullpen and not his big bat.
Helton drove in three runs, including a two-run single to erase the last remnants of an early four-run deficit and a tiebreaking double in the eighth inning, to rally the Rockies past the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-6 on Friday night.
He credited the relievers – Esmil Rogers, Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers and Rafael Betancourt – who allowed no runs on four harmless hits over the final 6 1/3 innings after Juan Nicasio struggled in his first start at Coors Field since Aug. 5, when he was hit in the head by a line drive and suffered a fractured skull and a broken neck.
“The bullpen was unbelievable. The bullpen won us the game,” Helton said. “Rogers, Belisle, Brothers, Betancourt. They were fabulous, especially when they had runners at second and third with nobody out. To get out of that, that’s what won us the game.”
Rogers worked his way out of that particular jam in the fourth, getting Miguel Montero on a comebacker and striking out Chris Young with a nasty curve and Paul Goldschmidt with a wicked fastball.
“Todd just told me I’m the reason we won,” Rogers said. “After I got the groundout, I said I’m going to strike out the next two guys. That’s the first time I ever said that in my life.”
“That was a character-building win,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said after watching his disciplined offense and shutdown relief corps engineer the comeback after Nicasio’s poor start – he allowed six earned runs on five hits and five walks in 2 2/3 innings and left trailing 6-2.
“I think he’s right,” Helton said. “I think in the past, that game would have been over, falling behind that quick. ... Now we know we can do it, so, no excuses.”
Carlos Gonzalez singled with one out in the eighth off Bryan Shaw, whose pickoff attempt scooted past Goldschmidt for a two-base error on the young first baseman who hadn’t made an error in his first 425 attempts going back to his rookie season in 2011.
The throw “kind of took me up the line,” Goldschmidt said. “I tried to snag it, and it hit off my glove. I wasn’t able to knock it down.”
Shaw (0-1) struck out Troy Tulowitzki, who had three hits, but Helton stroked a cutter into the left-field corner.
That made a winner of Brothers (1-1), who pitched a scoreless eighth. Betancourt got three outs for his second save. He allowed only Montero’s one-out single.
Helton finished with three hits, including a two-run single that tied it at 6 in the fourth inning and chased Diamondbacks starter Daniel Hudson, who failed to hold a 6-2 lead.
“Terrible command (Friday night),” Hudson said. “Every single pitch, just couldn’t find a rhythm. Couldn’t get a guy out with two outs. It’s frustrating, you get six runs in the first three innings, and you want to get out there and throw one zero just to get some momentum. Just chalk it up to a bad night.”
Nicasio labored through a 44-pitch first inning that included three walks, a wild pitch and a two-run single by Goldschmidt after he’d walked the bases full. Nicasio followed that with a 1-2-3 second inning but struggled again in the third after the Rockies had tied it on solo homers by Dexter Fowler and Ramon Hernandez, throwing 36 pitches and failing to get out of the inning.
“I wasn’t nervous,” said Nicasio, who received a prolonged ovation from the crowd of 30,642 when he took the mound in the first. “I just couldn’t locate my fastball.”
Montero restored Arizona’s two-run lead when he turned on a slider and sent it into the seats above the scoreboard in right for his first homer of the year after Justin Upton’s bunt single. Geoff Blum’s sacrifice fly and Ryan Roberts’ RBI single made it 6-2. Nicasio then walked his counterpart, and that was it. In came Rogers.
The Rockies got two runs back in the bottom half on Hernandez’s two-run double over Upton’s outstretched glove in right, then tied it in the fourth on Helton’s two-run double that chased Hudson and brought in Brad Ziegler.
Nicasio earned a spot in the Rockies’ rotation this spring just eight months after the accident that landed him in the hospital for 11 days and had doctors – who usually see fractures of the C-1 vertebra in diving or auto accident patients – wondering if he’d ever walk again much less return to the mound.
“I’m very amazed and very glad to see Juan playing again and being on the field and doing as well as he’s doing. It’s clearly amazing how fast he did get better,” said his neurosurgeon, Dr. Peter Witt of Denver Health.