MINNEAPOLIS — With his old-school stirrups pulled high and a 100-mph fastball in his holster, Ubaldo Jimenez is taking pitching back to a bygone era where gunslingers like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax dominated the landscape.
Almost as impressive as his historic start to this season is the list of aces Jimenez has taken down to get there. Roy Oswalt and Tim Lincecum lost their duels in May and Francisco Liriano proved to be no match on Thursday.
Jimenez allowed one run on eight hits in Colorado's 5-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, improving to 13-1 on the season, the best start by a pitcher since Roger Clemens went 14-0 in 1986.
Jimenez struck out four and walked two, dropping his earned-run average to 1.15 and improving to 10-0 when he takes the mound after a Rockies loss this season.
"What a performance, again," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said after another stellar outing. "The mindset of this man and his awareness. This is not the first time that he faced a front-line guy from another ballclub and did exactly what he did today."
Ryan Spilborghs hit a two-run homer and Troy Tulowitzki added an RBI-triple and two runs for the Rockies, who avoided a three-game sweep in front of 40,741 fans at Target Field. Tulowitzki left the game in the eighth inning after being hit by a pitch. An initial examination showed no break, but he will have an X-ray on Monday in Colorado.
The highly anticipated matchup against Liriano (6-4) was practically over from the start. Liriano allowed three runs on five hits with three walks and six strikeouts in seven innings for the Twins.
Not a bad line on most days. Not nearly good enough against Jimenez, who became just the second pitcher in the last 80 years to win at least 13 of his first 14 starts, according to STATS LLC. Clemens went 13-0 in '86 and Lefty Gomez also went 13-1 for the Yankees in 1932.
"I don't look at stats," Jimenez said with a smile and a shrug. "I probably walk by the TV and see it, but I don't pay attention to it."
The Rockies jumped on Liriano early, who may have been a little too amped up to face his fellow countryman. Liriano allowed three runs on four hits, including an RBI-triple from Tulowitzki, hit two batters and walked another in a disastrous first inning.
"I was just excited. I tried to overthrow, I think, and it was hot out there, too," Liriano said. "I was just missing my spots. ... If you miss your spots, you get hurt."
He settled down after that, allowing just one hit over his final six innings.
By then it was too late.
Jimenez wasn't especially overpowering. The radar gun never hit 100 as it has so often for him. Instead, he was ruthlessly efficient, inducing double-play grounders to end the second, third and fourth innings.
He did a little bit of everything on Thursday, picking Denard Span off of second base in the sixth inning, never allowing a runner to reach third base and holding the heart of the Twins lineup – Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer – to one hit in nine at-bats against him.
He gave up a double to pinch-hitter Jim Thome and an RBI-single to Drew Butera in the eighth inning, but got pinch-hitter Joe Mauer to line into another double play to end the inning.
"It lived up to exactly the type of matchup you thought it was going to be," Tracy said of Jimenez vs. Mauer.
Liriano definitely faced the better lineup on Thursday. Mauer, the AL MVP and three-time batting champion, did not start after taking a beating behind the plate the previous two games. The Twins continued to play without their starting middle infield of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, both on the disabled list with wrist injuries.
That left Butera to do the catching and Matt Tolbert at second base. Those two light hitters, however, did the only real damage against Jimenez. Butera, who entered the day hitting .135, went 1 for 2 with a walk and an RBI and Tolbert (.179) was 2 for 3 with a double.
"The story was the first inning when Frankie was misfiring. ... Once he calmed down after that he threw the ball great," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Get behind like that early and it's tough when you got a pitcher throwing as well as Ubaldo out there."
NOTES: As tough as the first inning was for Liriano, it may have been tougher for home plate umpire Jerry Crawford, who was hit twice by deflections, once in the foot and once in the shoulder. He remained in the game. ... Gardenhire said he would wait to consider a roster move on Hudson until Friday in Philadelphia. Hudson is on the DL, and Gardenhire wants to see him swing from the left side during BP before he decides to activate him. ... Brad Hawpe snapped and 0-for-16 with a single in the fourth. ... Tolbert's double gave the Twins a two-base hit in 29 straight games, extending the longest streak in the majors this season.