Sometimes you watch your team get shut down by an opposing pitcher and wonder, "How is this guy doing it?" (Exhibit A: Livan Hernandez's 4-hit shutout earlier Saturday.) This was not one of those nights. Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez came out throwing in the 96-98 mph range on his fastball, even hitting 100 on at least one occasion. His slider was breaking so much that it was often breaking too much and being called a ball. His curveball was unhittable.
The only question, really, was whether Ubaldo was going to make it through the full 9 innings. After 4 innings and 1 batter, he had walked 6 Braves, and was often going deep into counts. After 5 innings, he had thrown more than 80 pitches. He had even balked.*
* Useless fact -- As near as I can tell from baseball-reference, Ubaldo Jimenez is the first pitcher ever to throw a 9-inning no-hitter and also balk. Stats like this make me love baseball even more.
In the 6th inning, though, Jimenez made what seems to have been a key adjustment. Since he was having much better control with runners on base, he started throwing from the stretch at all times. From that point on, his control was much better; he had only one 3-ball count in the last four innings.
The only serious scare that Jimenez suffered en route to the no-hitter came in the 7th inning, when Troy Glaus (not coincidentally, the recipient of the lone 3-ball count after the 5th inning) smoked one into the left-center gap. It seemed destined to be a double, but local kid Dexter Fowler somehow tracked it down and made a spectacular diving catch. What made the play even more amazing is that Fowler had been stationed well into right-center. After the play, even Jimenez said "Wow!" Fowler now joins the ranks of DeWayne Wise in the "I saved a no-hitter" club.
Jimenez would receive all the support he would need in the first inning when Troy Tulowitzki drove in Carlos Gonzalez with a sacrifice fly. Jimenez helped himself in the fourth, singling in a run with a line shot up the middle. The runner may well have been out had Nate McLouth made a good throw, but instead the throw was 15 feet up the 3rd-base line and short. Carlos Gonzalez would follow with a 2-run double to give Jimenez some breathing room.
For the Braves, Kenshin Kawakami clearly did not have his best stuff, giving up 8 hits and 4 runs (all earned) in 5 innings. He walked 2, struck out 2, and had a WPA of -0.209. Still, I don't think too many guys could have matched Ubaldo tonight, so we can't really blame this loss on Kenshin. On a positive note, the Braves' pen was fantastic again. Rookie Jonny Venters made an excellent MLB debut, giving just 1 walk and 1 hit in 3 scoreless innings, striking out 2. Jesse Chavez also pitched well, striking out 1 in a perfect inning.
Obviously, tonight just wasn't the Braves' night. And a large share of that credit belongs to Ubaldo. I don't think our hitters had a particularly bad night. They had good plate discipline (hence the 6 walks), and for the most part weren't swinging at garbage. Jimenez was just too good. Braves fans, please refrain from slamming our hitters over this game. Honestly, saying that is unfair to Ubaldo--he earned this one. (With an assist from Dexter Fowler.)
As a final gesture of respect, I'm giving Jimenez's final line its own paragraph. And some bold for good measure. And blockquote. Congratulations, Ubaldo. That was a great game you pitched. I just wish you had pitched it against some other team (preferably the Mets).
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 7 K, 1 BK; 128 pitches (72 strikes); 0.320 WPA pitching and 0.56 WPA hitting
Congratulations, Ubaldo. That was a great game you pitched. I just wish you had pitched it against some other team (preferably the Mets).
MVP (hmmm.... I wonder): Jimenez
MVPs (non-Jimenez division): Carlos Gonzalez-- 2/5, 2 2B, 2 RBI, R, 0.157 WPA; Dexter Fowler-- 0/5, but what a play
MVPILE (MVP in a losing effort): Jonny Venters
Clutch Play: Gonzalez's 2-run double, 0.134 WPA