ATLANTA - Once Ubaldo Jimenez found the strike zone, the Atlanta Braves had no chance — and the Colorado Rockies had their first no-hitter.
Jimenez pitched the first no-hitter in the Rockies’ 18-year history and the majors’ first this season, getting help from a spectacular catch by Dexter Folwer in the seventh inning of a 4-0 win over the Braves on Saturday night.
“It is every pitcher’s dream to be out there for nine innings and throw a no-hitter,” Jimenez said.
Firing fastballs that reached at 98 mph into the ninth inning, Jimenez pitched the first no-hitter since White Sox ace Mark Buehrle tossed a perfect game in a 5-0 victory over Tampa Bay on July 23, 2009.
The San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays are the remaining teams without a no-hitter.
After walking the leadoff batter in the fifth inning — his sixth walk — Jimenez began working exclusively out of the stretch.
“In the fifth inning Bob Apodaca, he just came to me and was like ’You’ve been throwing good from the stretch, why don’t you just give it a try?”’ Jimenez said of his pitching coach’s advice.
He retired the next 15 batters to end it, but the biggest assist he received was from Fowler, his center fielder.
With no outs in the seventh inning, Fowler made a diving catch in left-center on Troy Glaus’ sinking line drive, the Braves best chance for a hit.
“The way he dove, I was like unbelievable,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez (3-0) gave Fowler, an Atlanta native, a big hug.
“I appreciated that,” Fowler said.
Fowler said of the catch: “The ball hung up there long enough for me to go up there and get it. Usually if a ball goes up, I always think I had a chance to get it.”
There was no relief in the ninth, with the Braves’ 2-3-4 hitters coming to the plate.
“Oh my God, Chipper and McCann,” Jimenez said. “They’re two of the best hitters in the league. Why did it have to be those guys? Can’t they give me a break or something?”
It didn’t matter. Jimenez was not going to be denied.
Martin Prado popped out to second baseman Clint Barmes, Chipper Jones hit a flyball to left field and Brian McCann grounded out to Barmes on Jimenez’s majors-high 128th pitch to end the game.
Jimenez thrust his arms in the air and was swarmed by teammates as he celebrated history for himself and his franchise.
The 26-year-old right-hander struck out seven and had an RBI single in the fourth inning.
“That was domination,” Jones said. “Only one ball came close to falling.”
Added McCann: “I’d never been no-hit. I’d never even seen a no-hitter, except on TV. ... It was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen. He’s impressive.”
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said he was worried as the walks piled up early in the game.
“Because it’s only his third start of the season, I start looking at the (pitch count),” Tracy said. “Is the pitch count intact enough to the point it doesn’t become ridiculous and you run the risk of jeopardizing a young man’s career?”
Jimenez began to establish himself as one of the majors’ top young pitchers last year, when he went 15-12 with a 3.47 ERA and a team-best 218 innings to help the Rockies win the NL wild card. He has a 1.29 ERA in three starts this year.
Jimenez threw a major league-high 128 pitches against Atlanta, but the heavy workload is nothing new for the Dominican right-hander. He had at least 100 pitches in 29 of his 33 starts last year and finished with 3,570 total, second-most in the NL behind St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (3,614).
“Probably after the seventh inning I was like ’Whoa, there’s only two innings left. I have a chance to do this,”’ he said.
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