Before the game Olivo had predicted that Jimenez would throw a no-no that night and asked Apodaca how much he'd pay if it happened. The coach's wager: $1,000. "The way he's pitching," says Olivo, "that's not a bad bet to make before every game."
Among the congratulatory messages Jimenez received the next day was a voice mail from Martinez, who had become a friend since meeting Jimenez three years ago. "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go! Time to go to work and go for a run!" Martinez screamed into the phone. Martinez may have been joking, but Jimenez was already out pounding the pavement in Atlanta. "I wandered down to the hotel lobby at 7:30, and here comes Ubaldo, drenched in sweat," says Apodaca. "He's a beast."
Jimenez runs five or six miles every morning following a start, no matter how many pitches he logged the night before, no matter how late the game ended. He runs sprints in the outfield on the other days between his starts. "I watch guys who pitched for a long time, guys like Pedro, Jose Lima and Jose Mesa," he says. "When I first got into the league, playing against the Padres, I'd see Trevor Hoffman every afternoon running out in the field. All those guys had long careers, and they all ran. Now, if I don't run my five or six miles, my arm feels sore."
His conditioning is a big reason why the Rockies believe Jimenez can sustain his excellence deep into the summer. He is all sinewy muscle—"not an ounce of body fat on him," says Barmes. Jimenez is the rare pitcher who gets sharper and throws harder as a game progresses. The final pitch of his no-hitter, the 128th, was a 97-mph fastball with a nine-inch break that Braves catcher Brian McCann grounded weakly to second—a pitch with as much life as his first one.
Jimenez's work ethic comes from his parents, who raised him and his sister, Leidys, in a San Cristóbal ghetto known as Hoyo Caliente—Hot Hole. Ubaldo Sr. was a bus driver and security guard, and his wife, Ramona, a nurse. They viewed education as Ubaldo Jr.'s ticket out of poverty. On weekends he and Leidys took long bus rides to attend three-hour English classes in Santo Domingo. "I played baseball from eight in the morning until noon, and after games I'd take the bus to Santo Domingo," says Jimenez. "I was always so tired, I'd fall asleep. My friends back home were having fun, having girlfriends—I didn't have anything. I was always pretty angry. But now I thank my parents."
Ubaldo Jr. had posters of Martinez on his wall, but he was a Braves fan. (He still wears his socks high like Chipper Jones.) By the time he was 16, he could throw a fastball in the high 80s. The Mets offered him a $20,000 signing bonus, but his parents turned it down, telling the team to get back to them after Ubaldo had graduated from high school. The next year the Rockies offered $50,000, and Jimenez's family accepted under one condition—that he be allowed to complete the two months of school he had left for his diploma. Ramona also made the Rockies agree to pay for medical school for Ubaldo if baseball didn't pan out. (Leidys, now 28, is completing her medical residency in the Dominican.) Says Jimenez, "I dreamed about playing baseball in the major leagues, but I always thought I'd be a doctor."
The Rockies signed him in 2001, the same year they committed $172 million to free agents Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, pitchers who would come to symbolize pitching futility at Coors Field. (Hampton and Neagle had a combined record of 40--51 in their years with Colorado.) In their 18-year history the Rockies have never had a 20-game winner or a Cy Young winner. But Jimenez, who is 5--0 with a 2.95 ERA in six home outings this year, is proving that pitchers can thrive, even dominate, in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains. "This ballpark has played with a lot of minds," says Barmes, who concedes that Coors hasn't been quite as much of a hitter's haven since the team began storing game balls in a humidor in 2002 to replicate conditions closer to sea level. "But the way [Jimenez is] going, it wouldn't matter if we had a humidor or not when he pitched."
Jimenez knows that his education has only begun. He studies and learns from the game's greats, such as Roy Halladay ("I love watching him locate his pitches—it's like watching a video game"), Zack Greinke ("Every pitch is going to be down, but he's also never scared to challenge hitters") and Lincecum ("I've noticed that this year he's not throwing as hard as he was last year, but he's still one of the best. You see that as long as you locate your pitches, you can get anyone out").
With so much mound talent around the majors, it's a good time to be a student of pitching. And the humble hero from Hoyo Caliente wants to be the best of this suddenly pitching-rich era. "That's something that people don't see because of his personality," says Fernandez. "He may not show it, but he is the ultimate competitor."
Last January, against the wishes of his agent, Jimenez signed a four-year, $10 million deal with Colorado. He is earning a relatively paltry $1.25 million this season, making the pitcher who may already have the NL Cy Young locked up the biggest bargain in baseball. "I know that a lot of people say that I should have waited, that I could have signed for a lot more," Jimenez says, "but mentally it made a big difference for me. I could focus on pitching. That has been big for me." He adds, "And maybe my next contract will be huge."