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Grace does it again
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06/16/2002 8:52 pm ET 
Grace does it again
First baseman drives in three to lead D-Backs
By Rich Draper /

Rick Helling allowed just one run in eight innings Sunday. (Roy Dabner/AP)
PHOENIX -- You couldn't tell if Mark Grace was wiping sweat off his face or tears with his purple sleeve when nearly 46,000 Diamondbacks fans applauded his career 500th Major League double Sunday at Bank One Ballpark.

No matter. The veteran first baseman was deeply touched by the lengthy standing ovation he received on this enjoyable Father's Day, as the 37-year-old also smacked a two-run homer in Arizona's 11-2 romp over the Detroit Tigers. Grace's parents, wife Tanya and toddler son Jackson watched from the stands.

"I told my mom and dad last night, 'Are you sitting down? Well, I'm in the lineup tomorrow,' " said Grace. "They damn near had a coronary. I'm glad I got the call today and had a good game."

Why so many doubles, he was asked. You turn singles into doubles?

"No," laughed the 14-year vet, "I turn triples into doubles. If you noticed when that ball got over (Tigers first sacker Randall) Simon's head the parachute was out, right out of the box."

Grace was beaming in the spotlight, one he has embraced throughout his career, and he expressed pride over his 500th two-bagger, third best among active players -- behind Rickey Henderson's 507 and Rafael Palmeiro's 505 -- and tied with Goose Goslin for 37th on the all-time list.

"There's been a lot of fellas play this game over the century, and that's a pretty select group to be in. I'm proud of that. I've got the ball, I got the scorecard, all those trinkets. We'll have a party and show them off."

Grace loved the way the Diamondbacks fans responded to the milestone, and he, in turn, was grateful for their growing allegiance to the team and how they back the squad with enthusiasm.

Manager Bob Brenly also acknowledged Grace's presence in America's pastime.

"Gracie is known for a lot of things in this game, but hitting doubles, everybody knows about Mark Grace -- he's a doubles machine. Right now he's taking full advantage of all his starts. It's an old cliche that as long as there's a uniform in his locker, he's happy. He wishes he was getting more playing time, but he deserves our respect of what his role is with this ballclub."

While it was a day to remember for Grace, it was equally so for D-Backs pitcher Rick Helling (7-5) who won his third straight game and first victory at Bank One Ballpark since last April.

Sure, he gave up yet another home run -- he leads the league with 16 allowed -- but the right-hander is pitching well recently after a poor start. He allowed only six hits over eight innings with the lone run Craig Paquette's solo shot in the first.

After that, Helling was hellacious on the light-hitting Tigers.

"He had tremendous command," said Brenly. "He moved that fastball in, out, up, down, stayed out of the middle of the plate for the most part. Even the home run to Paquette was a fastball out and away. He had total command of this game, and he was able to spot the fastball."

Helling, who altered his delivery a month ago, has had good success since then, and felt relieved he pitched well before the D-Backs fans.

That was something he was hoping to do, especially in the aftermath of a horrible 2 1/3-inning outing against the New York Mets at Bank One Ballpark on April 30, when he gave up 10 runs.

Capping off his day was a base hit in the eighth inning, breaking an 0-for-32 skein.

"It was nice to come away with a win today and take the series," he said. "And that single? It was a long time coming. Randy (Johnson) was joking with me, saying, 'Now that we both have averages, we'll have a little competition.' Being in the American League, I hadn't hit much in the last five, six years. But I do feel I've gotten better at the plate."

Feeling in sync with his pitches made for a sweet day Sunday, and Helling vows to maintain that keen edge.

"Hopefully now I can keep on this roll and pitch well, both at home and on the road," he said.

Matchups for the Baltimore series at Bank One Ballpark: Tuesday, Brian Anderson (1-6) vs. Jason Johnson (1-4); Wednesday, Curt Schilling (12-2) vs. Sidney Ponson (3-4); Thursday at 3:07 p.m., Randy Johnson vs. Rodrigo Lopez (6-2).

Rich Draper covers the Diamondbacks for This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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