Jimenez solid in defeating Rays

Jimenez solid in defeating Rays

DENVER -- As Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes squeezed Gabe Gross' line drive to end Thursday afternoon's game, closer Huston Street sighed relief. But a Coors Field Crowd of 28,639 let out a battle cry.

Barmes' catch put away a difficult ninth inning and gave the Rockies their 13th victory in 14 games, 4-3, over the Rays.

The competition of baseball's two hottest teams saw the Rays win a 12-4 blowout Tuesday night, and the Rockies win the final two close contests. The Rays scored twice off Street in the ninth, but in the end, Street had a two-strikeout inning and his 15th save.

Two weeks after reaching their low point at 12 below, the Rockies are at .500 (33-33) for the first time since April 15. Now they can think about pushing into playoff contention in the National League, and, down the road, possibly even challenging the widespread assumption that the Dodgers have already locked up the NL West.

"What we have accomplished is getting ourselves back to level one," manager Jim Tracy said. "I've said there was very little, if anything, to talk about as far as the latter part of October, until you can get to that point."

The Rockies reached break-even status because starter Ubaldo Jimenez (6-6) was the one who didn't blink in a matchup with Matt Garza (4-3) -- a contest of pitchers who displayed filthy fastballs.

Jimenez's one-out single in he third was the first hit off Garza. With two down, Barmes knocked a 2-2 breaking pitch from Garza -- who blew him away with three fastballs in the first inning -- for a two-run homer, his seventh of the season. Todd Helton followed with a solo shot. Carlos Gonzalez, who came from the Athletics this winter in the Matt holliday deal, hit his first Rockies home run, a solo shot with one out in the fourth.

Jimenez gave up one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, and was touched only when Jason Bartlett tripled and Dioner Navarro singled him in with two out in the second. Jimenez struck out seven against three walks.

Most impressively, Jimenez held the dangerous first five hitters in the Rays' order -- B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist -- to 2-for-17 and no RBIs.

"There's no weak spot in that lineup," Jimenez said. "Any guy can hit it out, any guy can hit it hard. All those guys are going to make you work hard, so you have to be able to execute pitches."

Jimenez struck out Garza with the bases loaded to end the fourth, and struck out Navarro and forced pinch-hitter Willy Aybar into a lineout to end the sixth with two on base.

Tracy has let Jimenez work lately. Jimenez threw 127 pitches in working his way through a complete-game, 6-4 victory over the Mariners in his last start. He threw 117 Thursday. He left after hitting Longoria and walking Pena with two out in the seventh, and Joel Peralta coaxed a fly ball out of Zobrist.

"I know I work really hard every day before my starts, and I know I'm able to throw so many pitches," said Jimenez, who benefited from pitching on five days' rest.

The Rays extended Jimenez's pitch count, but he threw his best fastballs when he needed it. Jimenez's strong outing was the latest from a starting rotation that is 12-1 since the hot streak started.

"He has the mound presence, and he has the poise, and he has composure on the mound," Tracy said. "He'll bend every once in a while, but I don't think you can break him."

Garza gave up four runs on five hits and struck out five in five innings, and was removed chiefly for an offensive substitution with his team trailing. But facing Garza in the third, Barmes fouled off a well-located 93-mph fastball with the count 2-2, then blasted a hanging slider into the left-field seats.

Helton sent a 95-mph fastball flying into the right-field porch. Gonzalez, who has hit three of his five Major League homers against the Rays, sent a changeup to right in the following inning.

Upton and Crawford hit singles to open the ninth and moved on steals. Street fanned Longoria and Pena, gave up a two-run single to Zobrist, then forced the Gross liner.

"I felt good today. ... I'm happy it's over," Street said.

No one can belittle the Rockies' run.

After starting the streak against the Astros, they began a four-game sweep of the Cardinals when they led the NL Central, started a four-game sweep of the Brewers when they led the Central, and swept three from a Mariners squad that had won 6-of-8 previously.

When the Rays beat the Rockies in the series opener, Tampa Bay's six-game win streak became baseball's longest. The matchup of teams that made surprise appearances in the last two World Series lived up to the billing.

"We beat a really good baseball team in a series," Tracy said. "That's a trademark of what they've become."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.