ARLINGTON, Texas -- Neftali Feliz and Jose Valverde combined for 81 saves during the regular season and have five in the teams' six wins this postseason. The Dominican closers are two of the best in the business and the first one to blink in the American League Championship Series could cost their team the pennant.
That's pressure of being the closer.
While the Texas Rangers' Feliz managed 32 saves in 38 opportunities, he needed a strong second half in which he gained confidence in his off-speed stuff to complement his ferocious fastball and turn in a sensational second half of the season. Still, it couldn't match what the Detorit Tigers' Valverde accomplished -- perfection.
The tubby, goggle-wearing righty was a perfect 49-of-49 in save attempts during the regular season, and although he was spotty in the ALDS, he notched saves in his two opportunities. Feliz, 23 and who is 10 years younger than Valverde, said he has followed his countryman throughout his career and forged a relationship with him about three years ago.
"It’s exactly what we try to do in the offseason, try to prepare and try to be perfect once the season comes around," said Feliz, who allowed one run on two hits in 3 1/3 innings in notching three saves in the ALDS. "I would love to be able to do that, to be able to be perfect in every save opportunity, but that’s something I’m totally shooting for in the future."
Feliz said he's not surprised that Valverde put up such eye-popping numbers. Valverde, who mixes a mid-90 mph fastball and mid-80s splitter, has twice posted 40-plus saves in his nine big-league seasons (47 of 54, 2007 with Arizona; 44 of 51, 2008 with Houston).
Also not surprised is Dominican slugger Adrian Beltre, who has long known Valverde, but has never faced him.
"He had the stuff to do it," Beltre said. "He’s had good years before, not the perfection like this year, but he had the stuff to do it. I’m not surprised at all because he works hard and he has the stuff."