DENVER -- The Reds found little to celebrate Sunday afternoon on a festive day at Coors Field, while Rockies fans rejoiced over a major milestone for Todd Helton. Cincinnati lost the rubber match 7-4, despite outhitting the Rockies 15-12, losing the series and an opportunity to gain ground on first place in the process.
The Reds offense showed up, but it was hardly timely as they went 4-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base. The loss kept the Reds 3 1/2 games behind the Cardinals and Pirates, who are tied for first after St. Louis' victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"We outhit them, but every time we got something going, we ran into a couple double plays," manager Dusty Baker said. "Those really hurt us, because we had runners on first and second and nobody out. At the end of those innings, we'd strike out, so we have to keep the ball off the ground in those situations and then try to keep the ball in better contact, which is what we're always preaching."
Things didn't fall the Reds' way all day, starting with in the first when Rockies leadoff hitter Corey Dickerson blooped a shallow fly between second base and right field, turning a lazy fly into a double. Jay Bruce made a great running grab at the right-field wall on the next play, but with two out in the inning, Michael Cuddyer doubled to left to put the Rockies on the scoreboard.
"It was a decent curve, just probably not a good pitch for him," starting pitcher Mike Leake said of the double. "It was a little frustrating, just because I wasn't throwing the ball exactly where I wanted it today."
Leake's troubles mounted in the second when Nolan Arenado led off with a homer into the left-field seats to give the Rockies a 2-0 lead.
"That was a back-up cutter," Leake said of the second of three big mistake pitches. "They're all mistakes that they hit. They made me pay."
The Reds' only break came in the third, when Leake led off with a single to center. His liner struck Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood on his pitching hand as the right-hander followed through. Chatwood stayed in the game but gave up a game-tying two-run homer to the next batter he faced, Shin-Soo Choo, then walked two batters in a row before being lifted with a bruised right thumb.
Joey Votto's quick reactions on the basepaths came up against Helton's defensive quickness at first with Helton erasing what would have been a go-ahead run for the Reds. Helton took a throw from Troy Tulowitzki on a Chris Heisey grounder that couldn't beat the runner at first. In one motion, Helton whirled and fired home, where catcher Yorvit Torrealba tagged Votto six feet in front of home plate for the third out.
"When they throw the ball across the diamond, you're taught to keep running," Baker said. "I don't think that was a mistake on Joey -- it was a good play by Helton."
The Reds maintained offensive pressure, but three Rockies relievers held them scoreless for five innings following Choo's blast.
"We got a bunch of guys on base, but we couldn't seem to get those big hits today," Heisey said. "That's the name of the game, getting guys in once you get them on. It didn't happen for us today."
Heisey led the way for Cincinnati with a career-high 4-for-4 day at the plate, though none of his hits led to Reds runs. Choo was 3-for-5, while Devin Mesoraco and Jack Hannahan had two hits each.
Heisey left the game after breaking up a double play in the eighth and getting a cramp in his left hamstring. He already missed time with a right hamstring injury, but he expects to play Monday.
Colorado burst out with a decisive four-run fifth as pinch-hitter Jordan Pacheco started a rally that saw six straight Rockies reach base on two singles, two doubles, and two walks. LeMahieu's two-run double was Leake's last key mistake, and was followed by a run-scoring double from Cuddyer and a sacrifice fly from Arenado.
"I still feel like I'm making pitches, just two or three mistakes per game kind of got me," Leake said of a stretch in his last four games that has seen him go 1-1 with a 7.89 ERA after allowing three or fewer runs in 12 of his previous 15 starts. "Maybe In the past when I was missing, I was missing off the plate instead of on the plate."
Colorado added a run in the seventh when Cuddyer capped a 4-for-4 night with a leadoff homer over the left-field wall, leaving him a triple shy of a cycle.
Helton hit a career highlight in the next at-bat following Cuddyer, doubling down the left-field line for his 2,500th hit and his 584th double, 17th most of all time. He knocked a pair of three-run homers in the series opener Friday, but he had gone 0-for-7 with a walk as Cincinnati succeeded in briefly containing him.
"I'm happy for him," Baker said. "You'd be a hater if you weren't happy for the guy. I sent word over to Tuxedo [Rockies manager Walt Weiss] before the game. I said, 'Tell him congratulations in advance.' He's a fine player, a real quality guy."
Second baseman Brandon Phillips congratulated him in person on the field after Helton legged out the close play, beating Phillips' tag.
"Very cool," Helton said of Phillips' gesture. "When the other team comes up to you, that's cool. They're the enemy, they're the ones you're fighting against. When they acknowledge something like that, it's special."
The Reds kept their focus on the field, threatening late but falling short as they head home for four games with the Cardinals.
"It's never out of reach here in this stadium," Baker said. "We were a hit away and a bloop and a blast from taking the lead."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.