Ubaldo Jimenez has had some strong starts this season – allowing one hit in his season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays and shutting out his old squad, the Cleveland Indians, for eight innings in June.
But Jimenez didn’t hesitate when asked whether Saturday night’s 5-0 victory against the Los Angeles Angels was his best of the year.
“Yes, it was. Of course,” Jimenez said. “It felt really good.”
It wasn’t just the results – Jimenez didn’t allow a hit until Kole Calhoun’s double with two outs in the sixth inning. He tied a season high by lasting eight innings on a season-most 118 pitches. He changed speeds effectively and had command of his pitches from his herky-jerky delivery.
Really, though, what made it particularly special is the timing of the outing and the significance of these games. He’s pitching in a pennant race against a good Angels team that is ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card race. And he’s trying to rebound from three poor starts in his first four appearances after the All-Star break.
So, yes, throwing eight scoreless innings, striking out six Angels and permitting just two hits and one walk in August against a club he has never beaten in five tries, that means the world to Jimenez (9-7).
“I really needed it. It’s not easy coming into the stadium every day knowing you are not doing what you’re supposed to,” Jimenez said. “Especially in the spot we are in right now, and that’s fighting for the division and the wild card, one of those two. It feels really good to get back on track.”
That redemption wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“Most of all, it’s important for him,” third baseman Manny Machado said. “I think he wanted it. I think he wanted it more than anybody on that field today.”
It also was a big deal for the Orioles – such a big deal that Orioles manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that it was an impactful win, the second time he has done that on this West Coast trip. The Orioles are 3-2 so far, with the rubber match against the Angels on Sunday afternoon followed by three more in Seattle.
“It’s good for us, OK? We’ve got to win games,” Showalter said. “You see this series out here against a good team and we’re gonna play another one in Seattle. Any time you see a West Coast schedule, you know it’s going to be a challenge with the time change and a lot of things that go on.”
With the victory before an announced 43,041, the Orioles (56-53) moved within two games of the Angels (58-51) for the second wild card and closed to within five games of the New York Yankees in the American League East.
Reliever Darren O’Day survived a rocky ninth and the Orioles preserved their ninth shutout of the season when center fielder Adam Jones made a rocket throw home to get Mike Trout trying to score on a shallow flyout with one out.
“It’s impressive that Trout goes on such a shallow fly ball like that. He is one of the fastest in the league,” Machado said. “Jonesy has the best arm in the league, so it was best speed against best arm in the league. And obviously Jones won.”
There were several outs made on the base paths by both clubs Saturday. Perhaps the most unusual was in the second when Jonathan Schoop appeared to score on an RBI double by J.J. Hardy only to have the call reversed on review when replays showed his foot might not have touched the plate on his slide.
There was also an unusual play in the sixth when Matt Wieters hit a tapper to the right side of the infield and ended up on second because Angels starter Garrett Richards failed to stay on the first-base bag he was covering. Wieters took second because no Angel covered that base as the play seemingly was ending.
The Orioles used some conventional offense, too. For the fourth time in his career, Machado had a four-hit day, which included a solo homer against Richards (11-9). Catcher Caleb Joseph hit his 10th homer of the season, his third in five games this month. And Schoop had two RBIs on sacrifice flies.
The night, however, belonged to Jimenez, the 31-year-old right-hander who had allowed at least six runs in three of his first four starts after the All-Star break.
“He did a great job, Ubaldo stole the show tonight,” Joseph said.
It didn’t start well. On his second pitch of the game, Jimenez plunked David DeJesus in the thigh with a 92-mph fastball.
“I thought hopefully this is not a ‘Here we go again,’” said Jimenez, who had allowed a run in the first in each of his first four starts after the break. “Hopefully I get out of the first inning, that’s been my trouble in the second half, the first inning.”
Jimenez didn’t allow a base runner for the rest of the inning – and didn’t give up a hit until Calhoun’s two-out double. Jimenez admitted he was cognizant of the potential no-hitter.
“It’s not like I thought about it, I just knew it. I didn’t give up any hits in the first inning so I guess I’m throwing a no-hitter,” said Jimenez, who pitched a no-hitter for the Colorado Rockies in Atlanta in 2010. “But as a pitcher, you don’t want to put that in your mind. You want to go out there and just execute pitches. If it’s going to go your way, it’s going to go. But you don’t think about it.”
The no-hit bid went by the wayside, but the tremendous performance against a playoff-caliber club remained significant.
“Games are dwindling, there’s what’s at stake and teams are battling tooth and nail for their division title and wild card,” Showalter said. “You know how much that means to them in their home ballpark. And now we get a chance to try to win our second series of a road trip on the West Coast.”