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Hollywood ending: Helton exits on winning note

Retiring icon records hit, hears ovations in final big league game

LOS ANGELES -- Todd Helton thought it important to retire before he could no longer contribute, and Sunday was a competitive way to finish a 17-season career.

Helton singled as part of a first-inning rally that netted the Rockies their first run, made a nice grab of a line drive and drew a walk as Colorado ended the 2013 season by scratching out a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers.

It wasn't a dominant day like he had often during the prime of a career that finished with 2,519 hits against 818 different pitchers. And Helton was beyond his best years as the still-productive inspirational leader in 2007 and 2009, his only two postseason trips. So it was fitting Helton left in competitive fashion against a strong opponent, one that is going to the playoffs.

Helton's final hit was a ground-ball single through the right side of the infield against Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8) to load the bases for Troy Tulowitzki, who singled in a run. The other run scored on Charlie Blackmon's fourth-inning single with runners at second and third. The day started in style, with Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully offering a tribute to Helton that was played on the large video board before the game.

Scully autographed a microphone and had it delivered to Helton.

"That was very kind," Helton said. "They didn't have to do that. But that was pretty cool. I was very honored and humbled from those kind words. The last at-bat, I got a little emotional, but other than that, it's Sept. 29th and I'm ready to go home."

Helton's final at-bat, which began with a standing ovation, a tip of the batting helmet and him receiving a lineup card from plate umpire Bob Davidson, was a swinging strikeout against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, which ended with another ovation.

Rockies manager Walt Weiss said Helton addressed the team for about 10 seconds in the clubhouse after the game.

"That's right on cue for Todd," Weiss said, smiling. "It's pretty cool to watch a legend in his last days."

The Dodgers will meet the Braves in the National League Division Series on Thursday, but they head in having lost the last two games to the last-place Rockies, who finished 74-88.

Although Helton's goodbye was the day's biggest story, a couple of other veterans put a nice finish on 2013.

Left-hander Jeff Francis (3-5), who won the home opener back in April but was making his first start since June 18, limited the Dodgers to one run and three hits, striking out six, in five innings. Francis struggled for much of the season and faces an uncertain future, because the Rockies are likely to look elsewhere for starting pitching.

The Dodgers' Mark Ellis drew a walk and Juan Uribe singled to put runners at first and third, and Skip Schumaker singled in a run to open the fifth. Francis worked a grounder from Scott Van Slyke, then walked Yasiel Puig. Weiss visited the mound, then left Francis in to strike out pinch-hitter Alex Castellanos.

"Well, I thought he [Weiss] was coming to get the ball, but I wasn't going to give it to him unless he asked for it," Francis said. "He told me he wanted me to get this guy out. That was a good vote of confidence. I felt good about it.

"The fact that I helped win a game that people won't forget, I think that means a lot. I've enjoyed being [Helton's] teammate and enjoyed being a Rockie. It's pretty special to be able to win that game."

Also, veteran Michael Cuddyer went 1-for-5 to finish his season with a .331 batting average, good for his first NL batting championship. Cuddyer joins Andres Galarraga (1993), Larry Walker (1998-99, 2001), Helton (2000), Matt Holliday (2007) and Carlos Gonzalez (2010) on the list of Rockies to win a batting title. Cuddyer, whose professionalism and hustle have him in line to be one of the team's leaders in Helton's absence next year, earned his single by beating out a fifth-inning infield grounder against Ricky Nolasco.

"I told him I think it's great when the game rewards the good ones, and he's one of the good ones," Weiss said. "He's worked really hard and he pours his heart and soul into it. Todd's the same way."

The Rockies came up short in many areas this year but completed their season 38-38 against the NL West, as well as 10-9 against the Dodgers and 6-4 at Dodger Stadium. The final two victories, including 1-0 on Saturday night, came with the bullpen pitching a combined 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Rex Brothers struck out three in the ninth for his 19th save, although the Dodgers loaded the bases on two walks and a hit. The final two strikeouts, of Tim Federowicz and Schumaker, came with the bases full.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.
Read More: Colorado Rockies, Michael Cuddyer, Rex Brothers, Charlie Blackmon, Troy Tulowitzki, Jeff Francis, Todd Helton