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Smile high! Bettis awes in return from cancer

Right-hander goes 7 scoreless in emotional season debut
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- For nearly nine months, going a treatment at a time, a chemotherapy round at a time, a pitch at a time worked for Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis in his comeback from testicular cancer -- until he awoke Monday and counted the seconds to his return to the Major League mound.

"It crept in this morning, when I woke up, just thinking about everything that had happened, everything that my family and I had been through," Bettis said. "I was holding back tears until the start."

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DENVER -- For nearly nine months, going a treatment at a time, a chemotherapy round at a time, a pitch at a time worked for Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis in his comeback from testicular cancer -- until he awoke Monday and counted the seconds to his return to the Major League mound.

"It crept in this morning, when I woke up, just thinking about everything that had happened, everything that my family and I had been through," Bettis said. "I was holding back tears until the start."

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Bettis would channel the emotions enough to unleash an expert mix of pitches and speeds to hold the Braves scoreless for seven innings of the Rockies' 3-0 victory over the Braves at Coors Field on Monday night.

Video: ATL@COL: Extended cut of Bettis' return from cancer

Bettis' attention to his craft and willingness to help others with theirs made him a leader, even before he was diagnosed and underwent surgery last November, and went through chemotherapy starting in March after the disease had spread to his lymph nodes.

Monday's game was not only a celebration of Bettis' spirit, but the embodiment of how he made it through -- with much love and help.

Tweet from @Rockies: THE ONLY SCORE THAT MATTERS TONIGHTChad Bettis: ������Cancer: 0 pic.twitter.com/Y4wV3JDAi9

Bettis spent the day with his wife, Kristina, and 4 1/2-month-old daughter, Everleigh. Being with his family was the only way.

"[Kristina] doesn't know how big of a facade I was putting on," Bettis said. "As strong as I was trying to be, I was more leaning more on her and our families and my teammates and everybody that was lending support, whether it was via social media, letters, prayers, everything."

Video: ATL@COL: Bettis on emotional return from cancer

More emotion hit during his pregame walk from the bullpen to the dugout.

No announcement was made. But a montage of Bettis' public showings during his battle played on the big screen. Teammates formed a line to high-five him and the crowd simply went wild.

Video: ATL@COL: Kristina Bettis on husband's perseverance

"Whoa," Bettis said. "I don't know how to explain it. You try and get your mind so clear because you know the game and the task you have at hand. And to be hit with that ton of emotion was unbelievable."

Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez felt it, as well.

"Normally I don't feel nervous for any game, but the emotions that we all had when he was coming from the 'pen after his warmups and just crossing next to us, just giving him a high five, the way he looked so locked in, it was impressive," Gonzalez said.

Video: ATL@COL: Bettis receives ovation in return to mound

Immediately, he needed help. The Braves' Ender Inciarte opened the first by tripling past a diving left fielder Gerardo Parra. But when Inciarte tried to score, Parra and shortstop Trevor Story relayed pinpoint throws to the plate for the first out.

"It went from being incredibly high to, 'Oh, no, we're about to be down, 1-0,'" Bettis said. "Parra tried to make a spectacular play and ended up still making a spectacular play. Seeing guys give 100 percent effort is all I asked for."

Video: Must C Caught: Parra, Story nab Inciarte at the plate

Second baseman DJ LeMahieu saved a run with a diving play against Danny Santana to end the fourth with a runner at third. On this night -- when the Rockies also had a moment of silence and honored their original manager, Don Baylor, who died Aug. 7 after a long fight with cancer -- it was time for everyone to come together.

"It was really great to see our fans respond to Chad coming back and the tribute to Don, that was good stuff," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "I was proud of our fans."

Rockies back home, pay tribute to Baylor

Bettis said it took until the fifth inning for him to gather his emotions, but his composure impressed catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

"I'm happy that he could overcome all that and compete and dominate like he did tonight," Lucroy said.

There was emotion from the other side. Braves relief pitcher Jason Motte, who has promoted a foundation dedicated to fighting cancer for years, was with the Rockies when Bettis was diagnosed and was a sounding board. Rockies AT&T Sportsnet broadcasters wore the backward-K T-shirts that Motte has spearheaded to raise money for the foundation.

Video: ATL@COL: Bettis congratulated by Black, teammates

Rex Brothers, who wound up taking the loss in relief, played collegiate summer ball with Bettis, and began his career as a Rockies teammate.

"He's been a great friend, a true friend," Brothers said. "He's first class, so it really did mean a lot to see him, see what he's overcome. He's really an inspiration to a lot of people."

Bettis would not be around to claim the win, which went to Mike Dunn (5-1). But he claimed something bigger -- connection with Black, who is in his first year as the Rockies' manager and therefore was watching Bettis' first game.

Video: ATL@COL: Black on Bettis' emotional return to mound

"He came and sat by me in the sixth and said, 'How do you feel? Be honest with me. We're kind of in uncharted territory,' which is true," Bettis said. "And I looked him in his eyes and said, 'I feel great. And, to be honest with you, we're going to get through this.'

"And then when he came over in the seventh, he looked me back in my eyes and was like, 'You're done. We couldn't ask for much more from you right now.'"

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Chad Bettis