DENVER -- Baseball wisdom holds that the best pitch is strike one. Friday night found the Reds struggling with a consistent corollary, which found a pair of 1-0 pitches to Todd Helton as ominous an offering as the Cincinnati pitchers could serve up, yielding six runs on a pair of three-run homers to the Rockies' slugger in a 9-6 loss to open a three-game set at Coors Field.
"It was 'Todd Helton Night,'" Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I hope we get a couple guys tomorrow that have the capability of beating them. It was Todd Helton 6 and us 6.
"Two three-run home runs by Todd Helton. I'm sure he was really amped tonight trying to get his 2,500th hit. That's the difference in the ball game."
With the loss, the Reds failed to gain ground in the National League Central, while the Cardinals lost sole possession of first place in the division with a loss to the Pirates.
Bronson Arroyo dodged a big first inning after yielding a triple, a double and a walk to the first three Rockies batters. After DJ LeMahieu plated leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson with a double into the right-field corner, Arroyo walked Troy Tulowitzki but earned a break as catcher Ryan Hanigan threw out LeMahieu on an attempt to steal third on ball four. Arroyo induced a double-play grounder to third from cleanup hitter Wilin Rosario to contain Colorado to a single run after the first three batters reached safely.
"We felt like that inning could have snowballed quick," Hanigan said. "He got a good break, and I made a good throw. When I see him go like that, I get excited. That's a chance for us to keep that inning a little under control, and it worked out that way. That helped [Arroyo] stay a little more comfortable in the game."
The Reds caught up immediately in their next at-bats. Jay Bruce coaxed a leadoff walk from Jorge De La Rosa, and after Todd Frazier grounded into a fielder's choice, Zack Cozart and Hanigan hit back-to-back singles to tie the game. Arroyo advanced the runners with a perfect sacrifice, but Shin-Soo Choo popped to short to end the rally.
"I was rolling along," Arroyo said of his first three innings of one-run ball. "I felt as good as I've ever felt in this ballpark. It's a bit difficult for me given that I'm a guy who uses his breaking ball a lot, which is tough to throw here, but that's about as good as I could feel here. I felt strong; I felt it was a manageable lineup."
Cincinnati pulled ahead in the fourth with the bottom of the order producing again. Frazier led off with a double down the left-field line, and after Cozart grounded out to Helton at first, Hanigan plated his second run of the night with a single the opposite way to right.
"I saw the ball well," Hanigan said of facing De La Rosa (15-6, 3.33). "He was using his offspeed early and getting hitters out front. Tip your hat, that's how he's got to pitch: Change it up and throw some breaking balls below the zone -- get guys to reach -- and he did his job."
But Colorado unloaded in the bottom of the inning, with Tulowitzki beating out a Baltimore chop to third and Rosario dropping a short fly to left to set the table. Helton cleared the bases with his first homer of the game, a towering blast into the Rockies' bullpen in right.
"I've seen him do a lot of damage, for years," Baker said of Helton. "He might not be as quick with his bat, and his back might be bothering him, but he's a smart hitter.
"The fact that he still wants to do it is amazing, because he doesn't have to do it. He's doing it because he loves to play."
Colorado kept coming, as Nolan Arenado singled to left, Charlie Blackmon dinked a single to center, and Charlie Culberson doubled them both home on a drive to left that Ryan Ludwick misjudged, charging in before reversing direction and running back as the ball just eluded his grasp. Arroyo retired De La Rosa, the seventh batter of the inning, for the first out but was lifted for Alfredo Simon as the top of the order rolled around again.
"I couldn't put the lid on the can of worms Tulowitzki opened," Arroyo said. "That's just the way it rolls sometimes."
Arroyo turned in his shortest outing of the year, lasting only 3 1/3 innings and 58 pitches while yielding six runs on nine hits and a walk.
"That's kind of Bronson," Baker said. "When it happens, it happens quickly. You can't get anybody warm fast enough."
Ludwick brought the Reds within three with a two-out blast to left in the fifth for his second home run of the season, but though the Reds put traffic on the basepaths in every inning, they could touch De La Rosa for just three runs in six innings. A three-run ninth off Jeff Francis proved too little, too late.
Simon kept the Rockies in check for 1 2/3, but Logan Ondrusek gave up three more runs on three straight hits to open the seventh, with Helton powering the Rockies' scoring with his second three-run blast and his 2,499th career hit to put the game out of reach.
Helton had one more at-bat, in the eighth with runners on second and third and one out. The crowd was electrified as Helton stepped in for a chance for his 2,500th hit in what could be the final month of his career, all in Rockies purple pinstripes. He worked a full count before striking out to Zach Duke, who threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his Reds debut.
"It was really cool -- I got chill bumps," Helton said. "I was thinking three-run homer at that point. I was thinking three three-run homers in a game would've been really cool. It didn't work out. But that's all right; we can save it for another day."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.