DENVER (AP) -Todd Helton was getting drenched in a waterfall of champagne following his 1,578th major league game when slugger Matt Holliday looked over and laughed.
``He really deserves this,'' Holliday said as Helton enjoyed his first taste of the postseason party after a decade's worth of fantastic but frustrating seasons as Colorado's stymied star.
Helton, the subject of trade talks last winter, played a leading role in the Rockies' 14-1 season-ending run that put them into the division series against Philadelphia, with a sweep of the Phillies possible in Game 3 on Saturday night.
His 1,578 games, including a wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego on Monday night, were the third most by any active player without a playoff appearance. The only ones to wait longer are Arizona's Jeff Cirillo, who is on the Diamondbacks' playoff roster, at 1,617 and Damion Easley, whose Mets were eliminated on the last day of the season, at 1,593.
``Ten years I've waited for this,'' Helton said, a decade of disappointment drifting from his broad shoulders.
After two straight injury-filled seasons, the 34-year-old Helton had a change of heart over the winter. For the last couple of years, he didn't want to muscle up too much. For one thing, there were unsupported accusations of steroid use that dogged the slugger in 2005 and he figured a bulked-up body would only fuel those suspicions.
More important, there was his bad back. He was reluctant to pack on pounds for fear his spine wouldn't hold up.
After spending last season fruitlessly trying to regain his strength, stamina and power stroke following an intestinal infection that landed him in the intensive care unit, Helton cleaned his plate and hit the weights last offseason as he did in his 20s.
He said he got stick of watching lazy fly balls settle into outfielder's gloves and of people telling him he looked like he'd lost a lot of weight. And he figured he's not going to be swiping bases anyway, so why train to be a runner?
``I've only got to take three steps and catch the ball anyhow,'' he said.
Now the man who backed up Peyton Manning at Tennessee is looking like an NFL linebacker, tipping the scales at close to 230 pounds, a good 25 more than last year.
It was his return to health that prompted the Boston Red Sox to inquire about him in the offseason. The Rockies offered to pick up much of the $90 million left on his contract, but Colorado called off talks when the Red Sox refused to part with promising relief pitchers Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen.
``This is Todd Helton we're talking about,'' Rockies owner Charlie Monfort told The Associated Press in January. ``We're not just going to give him up for nothing.''
Helton, the first player in major league history with 35 or more doubles in 10 consecutive seasons, has a no-trade clause in the contract that paid him $16.6 million this season but was willing to waive it to play in Boston. When talks fell through, he turned his attention to getting the Rockies into the playoffs for the first time in his career.
The only move he ended up making was going back to the cleanup spot, flip-flopping places with Holliday, a move that manager Clint Hurdle made in the spring to split up Colorado's lefties and righties and force opposing managers to burn their bullpens.
It helped both Holliday, who put up MVP numbers, and Helton, who hit .302 with 15 homers - both career lows - and 81 RBIs last year but padded those stats this season (.320, 17, 91). He also drew 116 walks, the second-highest total of his career, surpassed 300 career homers and committed just two errors in 1,545 chances, for a .999 fielding percentage, the highest of his career.
Without him, the Rockies likely would be at home watching Helton enjoying the AL playoffs.
Helton's serious demeanor soon returned after the Rockies' three-run rally in the 13th beat the Padres 9-8 in the wild-card play-in game.
``I'm enjoying it but we've got to realize there's a lot of work to be done,'' he said. ``You've got to concentrate and focus. It's a lot of fun, but it's not a circus out there.''
the Toddlers.''
``I think everybody in the Rockies organization is ecstatic for Todd Helton, whether they're here, gone, been a part of this, played with him,'' Hurdle said.
``Now, for this opportunity, our team is pushing very hard to get him to the biggest stage,'' Hurdle added. ``Regardless of what a nice run this has been and a nice story it's been to this time, we will not be happy if we don't get to the World Series. Because first and foremost they want to get Todd Helton into that venue.''

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