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June 17, 2010

Game Story

Jimenez Wins Marquee Matchup

by Dan Wade

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MINNEAPOLIS—If you turned on Thursday’s Twins-Rockies game after the top of the first inning, you’d have seen the pitchers’ duel that was expected. In the seven remaining frames, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez and Francisco Liriano combined to allow no runs and just 13 baserunners, record 10 strikeouts, and induce five double plays. The game sped along at a rapid pace with little even resembling a scoring threat under a nearly cloudless sky at Target Field.

Of course, had you turned on the game at that point, you’d have missed the game’s critical moments, as it was well in hand at that point. Liriano allowed three runs on four hits, a walk, and two hit by pitches in the top of the first inning, giving the Rockies a three-run cushion they would hardly need behind Jimenez. The Twins could muster just one run against the big right-hander, and fell to the Rockies 5-1, a score line flattered by Ryan Spilborghs’ two-run home run off Alex Burnett in the top of the eighth.

I didn’t read Matt Swartz’s piece on Jimenez before going to the game, as I didn’t want it to color my view of the proceedings. However, in reading it after the fact, his view of Jimenez is mirrors my own almost exactly after seeing the major-league ERA leader in person. While he certainly held the Twins at bay, it wasn’t always a matter of dominance. He benefited from two close calls, one at second base and another at first, when the Twins had runners in scoring position, and induced groundball double plays in three consecutive innings to erase a walk to back-up catcher Drew Butera and singles to Danny Valencia and Delmon Young. It seems worth noting that inducing double plays by the Twins isn’t a feat reserved for the pitching elite; they lead the majors with 78 GIDP this season, nine more than second-place San Francisco. They may not be the 1990 Red Sox yet, but they are on pace to rack up 191 double plays, a substantial increase over the Sox’s record 174.

It feels somewhat foolish to say, “except for his first inning, Liriano was better,” since—as much as teams might like to—you can’t leave out one inning from a pitcher’s line. And yet, that was how I came away from the game feeling, a sense bolstered by the fact that in his remaining six innings, Liriano stuck out more and allowed fewer runs and baserunners than Jimenez. Whether it was because of the steady stream of baserunners he allowed or because the heat and humidity addled my brain, I never felt like Jimenez had taken over the game in a way that eliminated the hope of a comeback. Jimenez has been outstanding to start this season, no one can take that away from him, and he’s certainly a pitcher well worth fearing, but I feel hard-pressed to call him the best pitcher in baseball.

Ultimately, I have to agree with Matt’s take on Colorado’s ace. I would hate to see him pitch against my favorite team in a must-win game, but there are simply other pitchers I’d rather have in a one-game situation. That said, both he and Liriano showed why they are likely to be get consideration in the Cy Young balloting at season's end.

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