Ubaldo Jimenez does not look back
ATLANTA — Having just thrown the first no-hitter in the history of the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night against the Atlanta Braves,took the icepack off his right arm, grabbed his clothes to get dressed so he could catch the team bus back to the hotel and glanced at the clock on the wall in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field which read 10:43 p.m.
“Day game tomorrow,” he said. “I will have to set the alarm. Got to be up at 7. Got to get my run in before I come to the park.’
So much for the life of a celebrity.
In his third start of the 2010 season, the 26-year-old Jimenez did what no pitcher had done in the previous 2,702 regular-season games in Rockies history – pitched a complete-game no-hitter.
And his celebration?
Making plans to get up so he could get in the one-hour run that has become his ritual the morning after he pitches.
“Might have to run a little longer than an hour this time,’’ said Jimenez. “I threw a lot of pitchers. I need to take care of my arm.’’
He did throw 128 pitches in the Rockies 4-0 victory, one more pitch than his previous career-high and only the third time in his career he went past the 120-pitch mark. Not that he was any worse for the wear. The radar gun reading on the Turner field scoreboard was still registering 97 and 98 miles per hour in the ninth inning, just like it had in the first inning.
All the more reason, he said, to make sure he gets in that post-game-day run.
“I don’t like to run circles so I will find a neighborhood and just go run,’’ said Jimenez. “Last year, I started to go it. I hear veteran pitchers, pitchers like Pedro Martinez, tell me every time they pitch they have to run because it is part of keeping the arm in shape.
“I have no idea why, but I do it. Pedro says it works and I feel better. I am not going to quit doing it now.’’
The Rockies would like to think that Jimenez is just beginning to make his mark. He is one of the prize products of their abundant farm system, given the honor of pitching the season opener this year as much for what he has done as for what the Rockies feel he is capable of doing.
He is now 3-0 three starts into 2010 – one more win than his previous career total for April – and has won 15 of his last 18 decisions. What’s more he is durable. While 128 pitches was his previous career-high, he did throw at least 100 pitches in 29 of 33 starts last year, and did throw 3,570 pitches in 2009, just 44 fewer than NL leader Adam Wainwright of St. Louis.
“This isn’t a guy you put limits on,’’ said manager. “He is a guy who every night he pitches you feel he might throw a no-hitter, and there is good reason to feel it. He has that kind of stuff.’’
And that was never more evident than on Saturday night when he left the Braves hitless for the first time since Randy Johnson’s perfect game for Arizona against Atlanta on May 18, 2004.
The biggest worry on Saturday was whether Jimenez would allow himself to stay in the game long enough to pitch a no-hitter. He needed one sparkling play to get the job done.
Troy Glaus led off the seventh with a sinking line drive into left-center field. Center fielder, running at full speed, dove head first and caught the ball, his batting gloves falling out of his pants pockets, creating a momentary illusion that the ball might have fallen to the ground.
“Other than that, we didn’t have to be out there,’’ Rockies first basemansaid. “Ubaldo did the rest himself. He even drove in a run .’’
Maybe that was the first good omen for Jimenez. He singled home a run to put the Rockies up 2-0 in the fourth, and then scored on atwo-run double for a 4-0 lead. It was only the third RBI of Jimenez’s career, and the first run he had driven in outside of Coors Field.
The story, however, was the magical job he did of regrouping from his early inning battle to throw strikes. When he walked Jason Heyward to open the sixth, he had thrown 70 pitches, only 32 for strikes, and had walked six batters.
That was when everything clicked. He retired the next 15 batters, needed only 58 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.
“When I came back to the bench after the fifth inning, (pitching coach Bob) Apodaca said, `Why don’t you throw from the stretch, you seem more comfortable,’’’ remembered Jimenez. “I decided to give it a try.’’
That’s the last time anyone talked to Jimenez on the Rockies bench.
“They didn’t want to jinx anything, but I kept talking to them,’’ he said. “I kept saying things. I wanted everything to be normal.’’
But it wasn’t.
There have been only 264 official no hitters in major league history. And there had never before been on by a member of the Rockies. Now, it is only the New York Mets and San Diego Padres who are void of no-hitters on their record books.
“Every time he pitches it is something we talk about, a possible no-hitter,’’ said third baseman, who has been playing alongside Jimenez ever since they were teammates at High-A Modesto in 2005. “He has special stuff, but more than that he is such a great guy.
“I’ve seen these in high school, but to do it at this level. … He was the perfect guy to do it. He never backed down, from the first inning through the ninth.’’
And Jimenez did have a game-ending challenge.
In the ninth he faced Martin Prado, who had a Braves record-tying 19 hits in the first 10 games of the season. Prado popped up to second, and then came the 3-4 bats in the Braves lineup, Chipper Jones, who flied to left, and Brian McCann, who grounded to second.
“With the situation we faced (Friday), having our starting pitcher not get through the second inning, I told Ubaldo before the game we needed him to give the bullpen a break,’’ Tracy said with a smile. “That was above and beyond the call of duty.
“But then special things happen to special people.’’
And Jimenez is a very special person, as well as a special pitcher.