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Francis improves to 8-1 at Coors Field

DENVER (AP) -- Todd Helton is starting to look like Todd Helton
again, and Jeff Francis is looking like a pitcher to be reckoned
with for a long time to come.

Helton tied the franchise record for home runs and Francis
pitched another fine game at Coors Field on Tuesday night, lifting
the Colorado Rockies to a 6-1 victory over the injury-riddled Los Angeles Dodgers.

Helton's two-run homer in the seventh off Odalis Perez (4-5) was
the 258th of his career, tying Larry Walker for the team record.
Helton finished with three hits and three RBI, and improved to
20-for-50 since June 21 -- a nice stint for the veteran who is
hitting around 60 points below his career average this season.

"It's one of those things I'll probably look back on someday,"
Helton said of his milestone. "But in the middle of this season
and with what we have to do, I don't know what it means."

The Rockies are still the worst team in the National League, but
it's hardly the fault of Francis (8-5), who allowed one run and 11
hits over 7 1/3 innings and extended his scoreless streak to 14 1/3
straight innings before an RBI groundout in the eighth made it 6-1.
He struck out five.

"This isn't unexpected. I showed last year I could pitch
here," Francis said. "So far I'm getting along with this park. I
don't have anything figured out. I've had a string of some good
starts and things are going my way."

Francis moved into a tie for the major-league lead for victories
by a rookie and improved to 8-1 in 10 career starts at Coors Field,
including two he made late last season. He combined with Byung-Hyun
Kim and Joe Kennedy to make it 17 1/3 straight innings, dating to
Sunday, in which Colorado starters didn't allowed an earned run.

Colorado only won one of those three games, though, a result of
an overworked bullpen that cost the Rockies in a 5-4 loss to St.
Louis on Sunday, then again Monday in a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers.

"He knew what was at stake tonight. We wanted him to go deep
into the game," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said of Francis.
"That's just talk, though. He backed it up with action."

The Dodgers continued their limp into the All-Star break, losing
for the 15th time in 21 games on a night in which they placed Cesar
Izturis on the disabled list with a sore hamstring and learned J.D.
Drew will need eight weeks to heal the wrist he broke Sunday when
he got hit by a pitch.

Izturis was the 15th player Los Angeles has placed on the 15-day
DL this season.

Making things worse, Jeff Kent left in the sixth inning with a
strained left hamstring; the Dodgers said his status was
"day-to-day."

"He would have to significantly improve from what I heard in
the dugout for me to feel comfortable about putting him out there"
on Wednesday, Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.

The Dodgers didn't have trouble getting on base, but couldn't do
much when they did.

Led by Oscar Robles' three hits, everyone in the starting lineup
but Kent had a hit. But the Dodgers left 10 runners on base --
including three in the first inning -- and batted 1-for-12 with
runners in scoring position.

"Anytime in this ballpark you score one run on 12 hits, and the
lone run you get is on an infield groundout, you know that
obviously you have put hits together," Tracy said. "Bases loaded,
one out in the first inning, and we left two guys on. We stranded
entirely too many runners tonight."

Many of their problems in this game can be traced to Francis,
one of the few pitchers out there who appears to have mastered the
art of pitching at Coors Field. Six of his eight wins this year
have come at the hitter-friendly park, and he lowered his home ERA
to 3.18 this season.

Before Helton's three RBI, struggling catcher J.D. Closser hit
a three-run homer in the second, his fourth of the season, to put
Colorado up 3-0.

Perez returned from a shoulder injury and in his first start
since May 14, he allowed eight hits and four runs over five
innings.

Colorado's Marcos Carvajal pitched the last 1 2/3 innings to
wrap up a night in which neither team allowed a walk. It was the
first time neither team had allowed a walk at Coors Field since
June 19, 1999.

Game notes
After Monday night's loss, the Rockies fell to 28-53, tying
them with the 1993 expansion club for the worst record at the
halfway point. ... Chosen for the All-Star team, Izturis plans on
attending the game even though he probably won't be healthy enough
to play. ... Colorado 3B Garrett Atkins was named the NL Rookie of
the Month.