Ubaldo, Rockies undone by five-run eighth
Colorado ace denied win No. 18 for fourth straight start
DENVER -- Baseball is a game riddled with jinxes and superstitions -- cursed trades, avoiding pitchers during fine performances, stepping on chalk, daily rituals -- but the curse of the 17-win plateau?
That's a new one.
If you're unfamiliar, ask Ubaldo Jimenez. He, along with three Rockies pitchers before him, can describe what becomes a growing burden of trying to add one more win to a season slate already filled with plenty of them.
For now, Friday's 6-2 loss to the Dodgers -- who drew even with the Rockies in the NL Wild Card race, 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia -- means Jimenez will have to wait at least one more turn through the rotation before the right-hander has his next shot at a franchise-best 18th win of the year.
"No, no," said Jimenez when asked if the elusive victory was wearing on him. "I don't think about No. 18. I just try to go out there and keep the score close to give my team a chance to win. I don't worry about No. 18. I want to win, but I don't put any number in my head."
For the fourth start in a row, Jimenez and the Rockies passed on a sterling opportunity for the ace to earn his record-breaking win, which would surpass Jeff Francis (2007), Kevin Ritz (1996) and Pedro Astacio (1999) for wins in a season, all the while giving Jimenez the most victories in baseball this year.
It's now been a 1-0 loss, a ninth-inning blown save, a 3-1 defeat and a late-inning collapse Friday that has amounted to three losses and a no-decision for Jimenez.
On Aug. 4, he had 17 wins. As of Friday night, he still has 17 wins.
"Tough for Ubaldo," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "He pitched a very, very fine baseball game -- like he has done all year long for us."
Jimenez spent the first seven innings outdueling Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and holding the Los Angeles bats silent. But after surrendering a leadoff single and a walk to start the eighth, Tracy was faced with a difficult predicament.
Leave in Jimenez, 122 pitches deep, to face Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier to seal the deal himself? Or bring in southpaw Joe Beimel to face Ethier, who leads the big leagues with 11 walk-off hits this season?
"I'm a big believer in the fact that you don't take the ball away from him and have him in the position to lose and he's sitting in the dugout watching it happen," Tracy said. "I don't think that's the way you treat a guy of the caliber of Ubaldo Jimenez."
As it turned out, Ethier smacked a double to the right-field gap off Jimenez to tie the game at 1. Tracy brought in right-hander Matt Belisle, who fought third baseman Casey Blake in an eight-pitch at-bat before giving up a grand slam and a 5-1 lead.
"He's a tough out," Belisle said. "But what can you do? Just keep battling like that. I've had plenty of situations the same way and plenty of at-bats with him. But you make a mistake like that over the plate and he's ready for it."
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whose club is now 7-3 against the Rockies and the only team in the division above .500 against Colorado this season, saw the reasoning behind Tracy's logic.
"You commit yourself to use Jimenez," Torre said. "I certainly never expect him to come out of the game if he feels well enough and obviously he did. Even 80 percent of Jimenez is better than 100 percent of some other people. It didn't surprise me. At that point, he's the best guy."
Samuel Deduno, making his Major League debut in the top of the ninth, surrendered a two-out single to Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp to make it 6-2.
The Rockies -- who took a 1-0 lead in the second on a Todd Helton solo homer -- scratched another run across in the eighth on an RBI single from Melvin Mora, but were retired in order in the ninth.
Belisle, the big league leader in relief innings pitched, had allowed just one unearned run and one walk in his previous 16 1/3 innings before the Blake grand slam. This season, he has emerged as one of the club's most dependable arms.
But, on Friday night, he stood in front of his locker and took responsibility for the evening's defeat.
"In that situation, you can't let off at all and I didn't," Belisle said. "I just didn't execute a pitch. Bad location and I got hurt in a big way. I take full responsibility for the loss with that."
Joey Nowak is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.