SAN FRANCISCO -- Can't say the ball didn't bounce the way of Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez on Friday night. The problem was when Jimenez needed it to bounce, it didn't bounce at all. With two out in the fifth, Jimenez wanted his 1-2 curveball to Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval to hit the dirt near home plate. But the pitch wasn't low enough, and Sandoval hit it far enough for a home run -- the key blow in the Rockies' 2-0 loss at AT&T Park. A few inches lower, and maybe Jimenez (12-10) would have won the second straight match of pitching heavyweights. Instead, Tim Lincecum (13-4) pitched eight scoreless innings and gained revenge for a 4-2 loss to Jimenez and the Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday afternoon.
In the bigger picture, the Giants -- who dropped three of four at Coors Field after arriving a week ago -- trimmed the Rockies' cushion in the National League Wild Card race to two games. The Rockies remained four games behind the NL West-leading Dodgers. But what if that curve had hit dirt instead of Sandoval's bat? On Sunday in the eighth with a runner at third and one out, Jimenez spotted such a pitch properly, Sandoval grounded out and Jimenez escaped without a run crossing. This time, Sandoval ended up with his 20th home run of the season. Lincecum, who finished with eight strikeouts, dominated throughout. Jimenez escaped jams in the first, second and fourth innings. Whichever pitcher received the 1-0 lead was going to be energized. "I'm pretty happy with what I did out there," said Jimenez, who also gave up a broken-bat RBI single to Eugenio Velez in the sixth. "I made one mistake, and that was it." After Brian Wilson gave up one hit in the ninth but finished with his 31st save, the Giants had made the West clearly a three-team race and had given the Rockies just their third three-game losing streak since Jim Tracy took over as manager for Clint Hurdle on May 29.
But Tracy, a veteran of tense races from his days with the Dodgers, actually was able to step back and appreciate the drama. Part of the reason he could put on his fan hat was there was little he could do about Friday's outcome. Lincecum didn't have a runner reach second until Brad Hawpe's two-out double in the fourth. Todd Helton, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, made it to third with two out in the sixth, only to see Lincecum fan Hawpe. Also, Tracy reveled in the work of Jimenez, who not only pitched expertly -- advancing to the sixth or beyond for the 23rd straight start -- but made key fielding plays on Lincecum bunts in the second and fourth innings to help stop rallies. "Obviously, you hate to lose but if there are two young pitchers who, within the framework of a five-day period, lived up to a marquee pitching matchup, I'd have to say those two guys passed the test," Tracy said. Jimenez made it entertaining, if frustrating for Giants fans, in the early innings. With loaded bases in the first, he forced a Travis Ishikawa infield popup and a Juan Uribe grounder to escape. With two on and no one out, he fielded a Lincecum bunt and threw to third to kill the Giants' momentum. Uribe doubled to lead off the fourth but never made it home. "This is great," said Jimenez, who was 6-0 in eight starts before falling Friday night. "Every pitch counts. I don't think anybody was taking a break or going out of their seat. It's a game you have to watch." Having done his part, Lincecum can spend the next two days on the edge of his seat watching Giants pitchers Barry Zito and Matt Cain face Jason Marquis and Jason Hammel, respectively. "This kind of sets the pace a little bit for the next couple of games," Lincecum said. The West marks the NL's closest race and boasts the league's best two records among teams not in first place. If it's a surprise, Tracy, whose team has had to go 54-29 to put itself in the thick of contention, believes it's a pleasant one. "What's interesting about it was how we heard how weak the teams were in the National League West at the beginning of the year," Tracy said. "I think we need to reassess that a little bit."
DIGGING OUT OF A BIG HOLE
|These three teams overcame the largest deficits to finish in first place. No team has ever overcome a 15 1/2-game deficit to win a division or a league title, which is what the Rockies are threatening to do.|
|Boston Braves||1914||15 games|
|New York Yankees||1978||14 games|
|New York Giants||1951||13 games|
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.