Rockies beat Giants, move into tie for first in NL West

DENVER (AP) -- In a batting cage below Coors Field, Jeff Francis kept his arm loose.

As the rain delay went on, Francis would throw lightly, sit down, throw some more and sit down again.

"I assumed I was going back in," Francis said after the Colorado Rockies' 6-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night. "I just wanted to keep loose."

But after a 1 hour, 47 minute rain delay, he was done. The Rockies didn't want to risk putting him back out there.

It was still one of Francis' finest outings.

Francis (6-7) went five innings, giving up only a second-inning single to Jason Ellison. He felt like he had good command of his pitches and proved that by getting nine groundball outs.

"He pitched very, very efficiently," said manager Clint Hurdle, who had four pitchers combine on a four-hitter.

Hurdle was surprised when informed the Rockies (43-40) were in a first-place tie in the NL West with San Diego and Los Angeles.

"Is that right?" Hurdle asked. "It beats the heck out of where we were last year at this time."

First place this year beats last place last Fourth of July.

"It's a good feeling," Hurdle said. "It is July 4, but we've covered some ground. We're making progress. We're moving in the right direction."

This is only the third time in club history the team has shared a piece of first place this late in the season. On July 4, 2000, the Rockies entered the day with a share of the lead, but the Giants swept a doubleheader from the Rockies, sending Colorado on an 11-game slide and out of the divisional race.

The Rockies have been in first place as late as Sept. 26, 1995, the team's only playoff appearance.

If there was any question whether Colorado first baseman Todd Helton has recovered from his bout with acute terminal ileitis that had him on the disabled list from April 20 to May 4, his recent performance may have answered it.

Helton has reached base safely either with a walk or a hit in 34 straight games. It's one game shy of matching the team record held by Larry Walker in 2002. On Tuesday, he smashed a 3-2 pitch to right in the third inning off Jason Schmidt for his 10th homer and fourth in his last 10 games.

"It is coming more into play in the games now," Hurdle said of Helton's strength. "His game timing is coming around real well. He's seeing the ball good. He's a big part of what we do."

Hurdle was also pleased with the performance he received from reliever Tom Martin, who was making his fourth straight appearance. Martin pitched two innings after the rain delay, giving up one hit. Jose Mesa and Ramon Ramirez each gave up a hit in an inning's work.

Ramirez allowed the run in the ninth on a leadoff walk to Omar Vizquel and an RBI double to Lance Niekro.

"That was a big shot in the arm for us," Hurdle said of Martin's outing. "It was a big shot in the arm for the bullpen."

Schmidt (6-4) didn't return after the rain delay. He went five innings, giving up four hits and one earned run. He struck out three and walked two.

Schmidt hasn't won since June 6 against Florida, when he struck out 16. In his last five starts, Schmidt has two losses and three

"He threw well, but we just didn't play good ball behind him and didn't hit," manager Felipe Alou said. "We didn't give him any support at all."

Garrett Atkins hit his 11th home run off Jack Taschner, who was called up from Triple-A Fresno before the game, in the sixth. Atkins also had a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Barry Bonds was a late scratch from Tuesday's lineup. Alou said Bonds took the day off in hopes of playing the last five games before the All-Star break.

Game notes
Hurdle sent bottles of wine over to Alou after he won his 1,000th game Monday. "He knows I like a glass of wine," Alou said. "It's good wine." ... Giants OF Moises Alou took batting practice Tuesday and is optimistic he may be back before the All-Star break. Alou has been on the disabled list with a lower back strain. ... Rain delayed the start for 13 minutes. ... Giants OF Randy Winn had his 10-game hitting streak ended. ... SS Vizquel committed his third error of the season in the sixth. The Giants had four errors in the game.