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ARI@COL: Helton drives in Smith with a sacrifice fly

DENVER -- Just once on Wednesday night did a Rockies batter hit the ball hard enough, far enough and straight enough.

And it still wasn't good enough.

Leaping D-backs center fielder Chris Young stole what would have been a two-run Ty Wigginton homer, and in the process preserved the D-backs' 2-1 victory at Coors Field in front of 26,972. 

The Rockies spent most of the night making the least of their chances for big innings. For that reason, the Rockies deserved the loss -- which dropped them to 24-24 and allowed the D-backs, who entered the year with none of the Rockies' lofty expectations, to overtake them for second place.

But at a better time for the club, and certainly with a less spectacular defensive center fielder on the other side, Wigginton's fly ball off Ian Kennedy (6-1) would have changed the ending. The drive came after Todd Helton walked, after narrowly missing a homer on a towering shot down the right-field line that was just foul.

"Helton just missed one right down the right-field line, and I got a pitch and hit it well," Wigginton said. "He [Young] made a great play. That's baseball."

Young's play meant the Rockies could not escape their offensive issues. They managed one run, on Helton's fourth-inning sacrifice fly, and went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Carlos Gonzalez's broken-bat, first-pitch groundball with the bases loaded to end the fifth was especially lamentable. But so were Seth Smith overrunning second base on Gonzalez's first-inning single to kill a rally, and weak at-bats with runners on throughout the rest of the game. The Rockies wasted a solid effort by starting pitcher Jason Hammel (3-4), who gave up two runs but none earned in seven innings.

"No matter how much we would like to analyze and re-analyze this game, it comes back to one thing -- offense," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.

The Rockies started the season 11-2, but even then never found their form offensively. With pitching and defense generally performing well, but the offense struggling at a mind-numbing rate, the Rockies are exactly where a team playing just half the game well expects to be, teetering in the middle of the road. They're also 12-12 at home, a venue that their history suggests they must dominate to contend.

Not having enough offense means games like Wednesday's, the team's ninth loss in its last 10 one-run games.

Tracy insisted there were bright spots. He is seeing fewer inexplicable swings at bad pitches. He noted hitters are working themselves into better counts, although the weak contact or foul balls in those situations has been "perplexing."

Tracy has fooled with the top of the order in recent days, partly to see if Dexter Fowler can find a spark in a place other than leadoff and partly to rest certain regulars, but Tracy said new strategy is not the answer.

Catcher Chris Iannetta said he appreciates Tracy leaving the solution up to players. The Rockies entered the season with a stated goal of changing their pattern of languishing early and turning hot late, so something has to change to keep from sliding back into that habit. But as far as the clubhouse is concerned, there is something to be said for remaining confident that players will perform to expected levels.

"That's a sign of good leaders at the managerial and coaching level," Iannetta said. "They understand how much better we are than how we're playing right now, realizing that it's a matter of time. Granted, it needs to happen sooner."

Hammel wouldn't mind if the numbing regularity of such losses would end as soon as possible.

The one inning that cost him wasn't entirely his fault. Alfredo Amezaga, starting at short as slumping Troy Tulowitzki took his first game off this season, threw wildly on Ryan Roberts' grounder to open the sixth. Then Kelly Johnson doubled to put runners at second and third. And while Gonzalez saved a run with a catch against the wall on Stephen Drew's fly ball, that catch was preceded by Justin Upton's RBI fielder's choice grounder and Young's RBI single.

Hammel has a respectable 3.20 ERA in 10 starts, yet hasn't won since April 30. He also has no idea what it will take to change his luck and the team's with it.

"A live chicken or something like that?" Hammel joked. "I don't know. Right now we're scratching and clawing to find anything. We're just as frustrated as everyone else is, and we're doing our best to get out of this funk.

"I feel good, a lot of guys feel good, but right now we're just not on the same page. Nobody's on the same page right now. We just can't get things to click when we need them to, so obviously it's very frustrating."

Kennedy held the Rockies to seven scattered hits in his eight innings before giving way to closer J.J. Putz, whose perfect ninth gave him his 14th save in as many chances. But it took an outstanding play by Young to keep the Rockies from pulling out a victory.

"I knew he hit it good and with [the] Colorado air it does keep on going and you don't have a chance at it," Young said. "But off the bat I thought I had a chance at it." Comments