Saturday, October 1, 2011
Unsung hero: Darren Oliver
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sometimes it's easy to forget the old man of the Rangers bullpen. Trade deadline deals for Koji Uehara and Mike Adams and the flamethrowing of closer Neftali Feliz make the quiet, unassuming Oliver slip into the background.
Of course, Oliver doesn't care. The 40-year-old (who turns 41 on Thursday, when Game 5 of this ALDS would be played if necessary) just keeps going about his job. On Saturday, that job was to get out of the seventh inning after Uehara walked the leadoff batter, gave up a single and then surrendered a three-run homer to Evan Longoria in the seventh.
Darren Oliver got the Rays' 4-5-6 batters in order in the seventh to keep the Rangers ahead 7-6.
Oliver came in with no one on, but no one out, either. At that point, the three-run homer had closed the gap to 7-6. Momentum was on the Rays' side and Oliver's job was to make sure they didn't climb all the way back into a tie or take the lead.
He faced the Nos. 4-6 hitters and retired them in order. He got Ben Zobrist to ground out, Johnny Damon to strike out and left-handed hitting John Jaso on a fly ball to end the frame.
"You try not to think about that it's tight," Oliver said. "You go out there and pitch and try to get outs. It's the postseason and you have to lay it all out there on the table. Things just worked out for us tonight. I wasn't trying to trick anybody. I just wanted to get them out as quick as I could."
Oliver posted a 2.29 ERA for the Rangers in the regular season in a variety of roles. He would sometimes be a situational lefty and at other times pitched to hitters on both sides. He had some rough stretches this season, especially before the All-Star break. But his load decreased a little bit in the second half and he's catching his second wind.
"He's had a great year for us," Michael Young said. "He can get lefties or when Wash puts him in a big spot, he comes through. He's fun to play behind. He knows what he's doing. He competes and battles."
Oliver certainly has postseason experience. He joked that he couldn't remember how many jitters he had when he first pitched in a playoff game in 1996. Oliver started Game 3 of that ALDS against the Yankees with the series tied at two. He went eight-plus innings, but struggled to start the ninth. The Rangers ended up coughing up the lead and lost that game and the series in four games.
Oliver also pitched for the Mets and Angels in the playoffs. He has 19 innings of ALDS experience, 14 2/3 innings of LCS work and 2 2/3 innings in last year's World Series.
"I've pitched in a lot of them, and it's fun," Oliver said. "You try to pitch like it's another game."