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Rockies fall to surging Cardinals, 4-3

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PAT GRAHAM | September 19, 2013 01:16 AM EST | AP


DENVER — Todd Helton thought for sure this was his moment, another memorable swing to add to his legacy.

Bases loaded. Two outs. Last inning.

Over his 17-year career, the Colorado Rockies first baseman has thrived in these types of situations.

Just not this time.

Helton struck out on a fastball from St. Louis closer Edward Mujica to end the game as the Cardinals held off the Rockies 4-3 on Wednesday night to expand their lead in the NL Central.

"The moment was great," said Helton, who will retire at the end of the season. "You couldn't have asked for a better moment. You could've asked for a lot better result."

The fans were on their feet in anticipation of something big happening from Helton. Even Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright thought things were setting up too perfectly for it to be anything but the stage for Helton's heroics.

"When we load the bases there, as much faith as I have in Mujica, you hear, `Now coming up to the plate, Todd Helton,' and you go, `Oh, man,'" Wainwright said. "It's too perfect. But (Mujica) pitched him perfect. That last pitch, it was like a thing of art."

In this case, that art was a high fastball.

"I was betting on Todd right there, to deliver the big hit like he has for years," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He made a good pitch there."

Wainwright (17-9) gave up two runs in the first and then found his groove to earn his 17th win, second-most in the NL this season.

He went 3 for 3 with a double and two RBIs to help the Cardinals stretch their lead to two games over Pittsburgh after the Pirates lost 3-2 loss to San Diego. St. Louis reduced its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three with 10 games to play.

"We're playing good ball at the right time," Wainwright said.

Tyler Chatwood (7-5) allowed four runs in six innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Chatwood is rounding back into form after missing nearly a month with an inflamed right elbow.

The hard-throwing Wainwright allowed 10 hits and struck out eight before running into a jam with two on and two outs in the eighth. Reliever Trevor Rosenthal got Charlie Blackmon to ground out to end the threat. Mujica pitched his way out of a bases loaded mess in ninth for his 37th save in 40 chances. He set Helton up with a few splitters before throwing the high heat.

Michael Cuddyer remains the NL batting leader, keeping his average at .331 after going 1 for 3 on Wednesday. Cuddyer left the game shortly after making an inning-ending diving catch in right field in the sixth. The team announced he was day-to-day with a bruised right forearm.

St. Louis solved Chatwood in the third, stringing together four straight hits to tie the game at 2. Wainwright had an RBI double and Matt Carpenter followed with a run-scoring single. Carpenter has 67 RBIs from the leadoff spot, the most by a Cardinals player since Lou Brock had 76 in 1967.

The Cardinals took the lead for good in the fourth when Yadier Molina led off the inning with a double and was brought home by Wainwright's single. He has five RBIs this season.

"I always brag that the starting pitchers are the best athletes on the field," Wainwright said. "Usually, we don't back that talk up. Tonight, it was a good opportunity to back that up."

The Rockies began the game with four straight hits off Wainwright, including a two-run single by Troy Tulowitzki. That was certainly more offense than the Rockies had off Wainwright in May, when the Cardinals ace took a no-hitter into the eighth and finished with a two-hitter in a 3-0 victory.

Wainwright escaped more trouble in the first by getting Helton to hit into a 3-6-1 double play. Jordan Pacheco followed by lining out to Matt Adams to end the inning.

A missed opportunity.

"You see it a lot with the great ones. You might get them in the first inning occasionally and then they settle in," Weiss said. "It looked like Wainwright found his curveball, fell into that groove."

This is Helton's last hurrah after announcing he was calling it a career after 17 years. Weiss said he plans to start Helton in each of the remaining nine games.

"I'm going to play him as much as he's physically able to do it," Weiss said. "Give the fans an opportunity to see him."

NOTES: Rockies OF Carlos Gonzalez is visiting a hand specialist in Cleveland about his sprained right middle finger. ... Blackmon and Tulowitzki both had two hits for the Rockies.