Helton reaches 500-doubles milestone
Feat comes in same season as 2,000th hit
DENVER -- Hitters who appear on all-time lists are able to make something of good pitches. That's how first baseman Todd Helton became the 50th player to reach 500 career doubles Wednesday afternoon in a 4-3 win over the D-backs.
D-backs starting pitcher Jon Garland had Helton fooled with a 1-0 changeup during the third inning. But it ultimately didn't matter. Helton flicked the ball high off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
Next thing Helton knew, a member of the grounds crew was uprooting second base and the crowd was giving him an ovation. It was the second milestone this season for Helton, who became the 255th player to reach 2,000 hits on May 19 in Atlanta.
"That was a neat moment, no doubt about it," Helton said.. "I got 2,000 hits on the road. To get 500 doubles here, it was cool, just to see the fans stand up and obviously my teammates stand up.
"It was a good day. It was a good win for us, too."
Even Garland, who has given up two doubles to Helton and is one of 307 different pitchers to allow doubles to him, stopped to honor Helton.
"I respect the guy," Garland said. "I gave him a little tip of the cap. I don't know if he saw it. It's a pretty good accomplishment, especially to do it in one place in front of his fans. I'm not sure if they really realize what kind of player he's been here for them over his full career. Hopefully, they do.
"I wish it wasn't me he hit it off of, but I'm still going to show respect."
Helton found a way to upstage going into the history books. His eighth-inning solo shot gave the Rockies a win that kept them ahead of the Giants in the National League Wild Card race.
The milestone double came with Seth Smith on base. Smith collided with D-backs shortstop Stephen Drew after rounding second and was awarded home plate on an interference call. Helton made a hard turn around second, but decided to stay. He was given an RBI.
"I was fooled on the changeup," Helton said. "I was out in front and I had to keep my hands back. I knew it was not going to go out of the ballpark. It was going to go off the wall."
Beyond the sheer number, it's Helton's longevity in a Rockies uniform that makes the feat special. He became the 19th player to knock 500 doubles with one team.
The only players on that list who are not in the Hall of Fame are Astros great Craig Biggio, who is not yet eligible; Reds superstar Pete Rose, who is ineligible; and Edgar Martinez, who also is not yet eligible.
"The game of baseball is built on its history," Helton said. "I'll probably look back when I'm done and be able to appreciate it more. But right now, I'm just glad we got the win."
Helton has been a mentor for Colorado players over the years.
"He's an unbelievable baseball player," right fielder Brad Hawpe said. "I'm very fortunate, and we're all very fortunate, to be on the same team and friends with him. The things he's done in a uniform are amazing. He just proved again why he's been the face of this franchise for so many years."
Helton also moved past Rusty Staub for 23rd all-time in doubles by a left-handed hitter. Helton is eighth among first basemen.
"From the time I've been around this guy, I think it's really safe to say that any era of baseball you want to talk about, he'd be a great player," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "There is nothing that he can't do."
Tracy said he met Helton during 2002 All-Star festivities at Milwaukee's Miller Park.
"I stood there with him and Luis Gonzalez, and the two of them had me laughing for about four innings of the game," said Tracy, who managed the Dodgers at the time and was a coach for the National League in the game that ended in a tie. "Nobody was laughing after we quit and it was tied.
"I began to think about Todd Helton. I wondered what it would be like to be around this guy on a day-in, day-out basis. All the things that I felt came true when I got an opportunity to be around him day-in and day-out back in February."
Going into the season, the questions were about Helton's back. He played in just 83 games last season and hit .264, then had postseason back surgery. Now Helton is hitting .324 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs.
Players like Giants pitcher Randy Johnson and Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal have had similar surgeries by Dr. Robert Watkins, a noted back surgeon for athletes, and continued their careers. Like those two, Helton has adhered to a rehab and maintenance program.
"I feel good," Helton said. "I feel like I'm getting stronger. Obviously going into the season there is an adjustment period, soreness-wise. But I feel good right now."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.