Sometimes when I watch a college basketball game, I notice that the student section at the home gym will stand up for the opening tip, and then remain standing and shouting until the home team makes their first basket of the game. It’s a neat tradition, but it gets a little awkward when the home team comes up empty on their first trip down court. If they go 0-for-2, then it gets a little tense. 0-for-3, and then folks start getting nervous. Of course the team’s going to score – eventually. But it’d sure be nice to get that first layup or mid-range jumper to drop so everyone can sit down.
Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 0. We can all sit down.
There are more to come, of course, but the first one is always the hardest, and the most nerve-wracking one to wait for. This one threatened to be especially tense, as Troy Tulowitzki’s fifth-inning homer was the lone run through seven exceptionally well-pitched innings from Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren. But Ian Stewart and Todd Helton knocked in runs in the 8th, my heart rate slowed, and Manny Corpas and Huston Street looked exactly like we dream they’ll look all year in the final two frames.
But the story of tonight was Jimenez. There are two current Rockies pitchers who I made a point to go see make their AAA home debuts in Colorado Springs when they were coming up through the minors. One was Jeff Francis – that was back in 2004. The other was Jimenez, in 2006. The same night Josh Fogg shut-out the Mariners on two hits, I watched Jimenez struggle in his first AAA start against Portland. Jack Cust in particular had a big night. Jimenez couldn’t really command his off speed stuff, and didn’t throw much more than a fastball, curve, and change. But the way he lit up the radar gun made it clear that, once he got to the bigs, he would be unlike any other young hurler the Rockies had ever developed – a true power pitcher with an elite, blow-away fastball.
We saw glimpses in 2007 and 2008, but for the Rockies to really make noise in 2009, Jimenez, now the number two starter, has to make the biggest step forward, from ‘young pitcher finding his way’ to ‘reliable front-end starter.’
Tonight, he was more than that – he looked like he’d quantum-leapt to ‘Cy Young contender’, baffling the D-Backs for seven frames. I was uneasy when the FSN Rocky Mountain cameras showed an empty Rockies bullpen before the seventh inning, but Ubaldo came out strong, blew through the bottom third of the Arizona order to finish with eight strikeouts, and departed after 107 pitches with a clear message sent.
The first one is in the books. My Facebook status reads “U-BALLIN’!” I’ve seen nothing to discourage my idea that this Rockies team can be pretty good. The adrenaline of the first win has yet to wear off. There will be a skip in my step tomorrow that hasn’t been there since last September.