On June 19, 1999, Todd Helton became the third person in the Colorado Rockies’ seven-season history to hit for the cycle. Helton had just four at-bats, but he had four different hits — a single, double, triple and home run — and he became the first batter to hit for the cycle while leading off an inning in every at-bat.
Helton wasn’t even supposed to play. He had injured his left wrist the night before when Florida Marlins catcher Jorge Fabregas stepped on it during a rundown. Helton was convinced he was spending the Saturday night game on the bench saying, “the trainers worked some magic because when I woke up this morning, there was no way I was going to play.” For Colorado fans, it’s a good thing he was in the lineup.
The Rockies came into the game having won five of their last six. Florida, meanwhile, had lost four straight and seven of eight. The setting for this game was definitely one-sided: Colorado had been scoring a lot of runs lately, and Florida had been giving them up.
Right-hander Bobby Jones got the nod for the Rockies, opposed by fellow righty Alex Fernandez of the Marlins. Both pitchers were in search of their third win of the season. Jones retired the Marlins in order to start the game, and Darryl Hamilton singled short left field to start the bottom half of the first. Florida’s left fielder Cliff Floyd booted the ball and Hamilton advanced to second. Neifi Perez bunted the ball to third and beat it out for a single, with Hamilton going to third. Larry Walker sent a fly ball to right for a sacrifice, bringing in Hamilton for the game’s first run.
In the bottom of the 2nd, Helton led off with a double to right field. He scooted to third on a Fernandez wild pitch, but the Marlins hurler got the next three batters to hit ground balls to the infield for outs, and Helton was stranded at third.
Two innings later, Helton again led off and this time the lefty drove Fernandez’ first offering into right field for a single. An out later, Henry Blanco lashed a double to right. Jones helped his own cause with a single, driving in Helton and sending Blanco to third. Hamilton reached on a fielder’s choice to second baseman Luis Castillo; everyone was safe and Blanco scored. Perez reached on an error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez, scoring Jones. Walker drove a two-RBI double to center as Hamilton and Perez crossed the plate. Fernandez retired Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla, but the Rockies had scored five runs (four earned) and built a 6-0 lead.
Colorado had batted around in the fifth, which meant that Helton led off the sixth. On a 2-1 count, he sent a fly ball deep down the left field line, over the fence for a home run. He was 3-for-3 off of Fernandez. Kurt Abbott tripled into center and scored when Blanco lined a single up the middle. Fernandez retired the next three Rockies hitters on ground outs, but his club was trailing, 8-0.
Florida manager John Boles inserted Mike Lowell as a pinch-hitter to start the sixth, sending Fernandez to the showers. Lowell flied out to left. Jones was in a groove, and although Castillo singled (only Florida’s third hit of the game), Jones kept his shutout alive. Braden Looper came on to pitch for the Marlins and retired the Rockies in order. In the top of the seventh, Jones tired, as hit pitch count crept into the 90s. He allowed three straight two-out hits, a single to Kevin Orie, a double to Kevin Millar and a two-RBI single to Mike Redmond. Dave Berg entered as a pinch hitter for Looper and flied out to center, ending the inning and Jones’ night on the mound.
Brian Edmondson became the third Marlins hurler in the bottom half. Of course, the leadoff batter was Helton, and he was looking for a ball to drive between the outfielders. Helton smacked the ball into the right-field gap and starting running. He said after the game, “I knew what I had to get. I was going to run until they tagged me. Once I hit the ball into the gap, I just took off and put my head down and didn’t stop until I got to third.”1 After Helton slid safely into third base, the Coors Field crowd of 47,051 gave him a standing ovation. Edmondson retired the next three in order. It didn’t matter that Helton was stranded at third with no outs for the second time in the game, as his teammates failed to bring him home. He had hit for the cycle.
The Rockies added two more runs in the eighth on a home run by Walker, giving him five runs batted in for the game. The final score was 10-2. As this was a home game, Colorado did not bat in the 9th. However, Castilla, the Rockies third baseman and the player just before Helton in the lineup, did make the last out in the bottom of the 8th, so Helton would have led off the 9th inning, had the Rockies not been ahead.
In earning his third win in eight decisions, Jones did not walk a batter and retired 15 of 16 batters between the second and seventh innings, getting 11 in a row at one point. He scattered seven hits in seven innings pitched, telling the press, “The only thing working was my fastball. For the most part, every slider and changeup I threw early got hit hard or for a base hit, so I just pretty much bagged it and went after it.”2 The Florida Marlins lost their fifth game in a row. The first five batters in the lineup combined to go 2-for-20.
The Colorado victory brought them to .500 (32-32) for the first time since April. They won the next day to complete a series sweep against the Marlins, but then the Rockies dropped 10 of their next 11 games and finished the season at 72-90. They didn’t record a single winning month all season. Florida, meanwhile lost its fifth consecutive game. They continued to lose another five games after that and finished 1999 with a 64-98 mark.
Helton’s line score was four hits in four at-bats with two runs scored and only one run batted in. Helton, runner-up for the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year Award, continued his hot hitting in 1999. He fell short of hitting a second cycle on four different occasions during the 1999 season (getting three of the four different hits needed), which would have made him only the second player since 1900 to hit for the cycle twice in the same season (Babe Herman was the first to do so in 1931).3
Rockies hitting coach Clint Hurdle’s father had recently given a little toy spaceship to Walker “for no apparent reason,”4 and Walker then started a tradition of passing the toy around to the player of the game. On this day that player was Helton. John Henderson of the Denver Post wrote, “The way Helton is hitting, the Rockies could ride him to the moon.”5 In fact, Helton might have put the rocket ship on permanent display in his locker, as Walker told reporters, “He’s hogged it the last four days.”6 In his last seven games, Helton went 13-for-26 (.500) at the plate with four home runs and 17 runs batted in. He raised his batting average 20 points. Walker, who went 3-for-4 with five RBI, further explained, “As long as we have got Todd in the lineup, it seems like we are going to score runs. Todd is clicking right now.”7 The duo of Walker and Helton combined to hit .667 (12-for-18) in the two games so far in the Marlins series. According to Helton, “When you’re in the situation I’m in, you don’t think about it. Once you think, it’s over.”8
Since Helton’s rare feat, five more Colorado players have hit for the cycle.9 Amazingly, all eight of the cycles in Rockies history have taken place at Coors Field. Helton was the second of three players in 1999 to hit for the cycle, coming after San Francisco’s Jeff Kent (May 3) and before Chicago White Sox’ Chris Singleton (July 6).
This story originally appeared in “Major League Baseball A Mile High: The First Quarter Century of the Colorado Rockies” (SABR, 2018), edited by Bill Nowlin and Paul T. Parker. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, mlb.com and retrosheet.org.
1 “Rockies ride Helton’s cycle,” Baltimore Sun, June 20, 1999: 187.
2 “Helton Hits For Cycle,” https://cbsnews.com/news/helton-hits-for-cycle/, June 20, 1999.
4 John Henderson, “Rockies win brings team to .500,” Denver Post, found online at extras.denverpost.com/rock/game0620.htm. Accessed October 2017.
7 “Helton Hits For Cycle,” cbsnews.com.
9 They are: Mike Lansing (June 18, 2000, against the Arizona Diamondbacks), Troy Tulowitzki (August 10, 2009, against the Chicago Cubs), Carlos Gonzalez (July 31, 2010, against the Chicago Cubs), Michael Cuddyer (August 17, 2014, against the Cincinnati Reds, his second career cycle), and Nolan Arenado (June 18, 2017, against the San Francisco Giants).