Ubaldo Jimenez's patented smile hadn't diminished despite frustrating struggles through six starts this season. But after his solid outing on Tuesday was backed by a late Rockies rally in a 5-3 win over the Giants, the pitcher's grin climbed a bit further toward his ears.
Carlos Gonzalez's two-run, go-ahead single highlighted a four-run eighth inning for the Rockies, as they notched their second straight come-from-behind win to earn a two-game sweep of the Giants in front of 41,105 at Coors Field.
With the win, the Rockies finished 4-4 on an eight-game homestand and moved a half-game ahead of the Giants in the National League West. After being swept by the Giants on the road less than two weeks ago, in a series that included two walk-off wins for San Francisco, the Rockies showed that the division fight is likely to be a long, drawn-out battle.
"It's nice to answer back, throw a few punches and prove to them that we're going to be in this for the long haul," said Troy Tulowitzki, who hit his 11th home run in the second inning off Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez.
It was especially satisfying for the Rockies because they were victorious behind Jimenez, who showed major improvement in allowing three runs over seven innings, while striking out seven and walking one. The right-hander, who needed just six pitches to escape the first inning, attacked almost exclusively with the fastball early, determined to find the command that had alluded him in previous starts.
"It's been hard. Every time I go out there, I try to give 100 percent to give the team a chance to win, but I hadn't been able to do it." said Jimenez, who got a no-decision but saw the Rockies win a game he started for the first time since Sept. 17. "I did it today, so it feels really great, especially against the Giants."
Most of the Giants' damage off Jimenez came with two outs in the third. Pat Burrell followed bloop singles by Mike Fontenot and Buster Posey with a two-run double.
San Francisco threatened to spoil Jimenez's strong outing in the seventh when Sanchez led off with a double, but the Rockies' ace retired the next three Giants hitters to set up the late-game theatrics.
"That extra run that late in the game by the opposition, when you're trying to get back to them, that can be a devastating run," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
But Jimenez didn't let that run cross, and the Rockies capitalized. Trailing, 3-1, in the eighth, Ryan Spilborghs and Chris Iannetta laced back-to-back singles. Alfredo Amezaga's sacrifice bunt was fielded by Sanchez, who threw wide of first, allowing Spilborghs to score.
With one out, Dexter Fowler knocked in Iannetta with a ground-rule double to center after a nine-pitch at-bat to tie the game, setting the stage for a second straight game-winning hit for Gonzalez, whose three-run home run on Monday was the difference in the Rockies' 7-4 win.
After a big swing and miss on a first-pitch slider from Giants reliever Javier Lopez, Gonzalez took an extra few moments to walk out of the batter's box and collect his thoughts.
"In those situations, you have to be more calm and just react to the ball," Gonzalez said. "It's a tough situation, but at the same time, the other team has the pressure, too."
The extra deep breaths payed off for Gonzalez, as he laced the next pitch from Lopez, an inside fastball, to right field to score Iannetta and Fowler and give the Rockies the lead.
"That's why they're paying him $80 million," Lopez said. "He's going to get hot."
A night after needing only nine pitches to record his 13th save of the season, closer Huston Street earned No. 14 on just seven, as he induced Andres Torres into a 1-6-3 double play to end the game.
Matt Belisle earned the win by pitching a scoreless eighth.
Before the late Colorado rally, Sanchez had stumped Rockies hitters, allowing just three hits before the fateful eighth. But the Rockies showed resilience they know they'll need as they begin a five-game road trip with two against the Phillies and a three-game set at the Brewers.
And the Rockies hit the road on Tuesday with reason to believe their ace, one who terrorized the league a season ago, is beginning to return to form.
"With his arm and the stuff he has, it's about him throwing strikes," Tulowitzki said. "If he throws strikes, he's going to be good."