Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Bullpen wrap: Job gets done, family style
By Jeff Caplan
DETROIT -- In the hallway outside the Texas Rangers' celebratory clubhouse and away from the media horde, catcher Mike Napoli wrapped his burly, tattooed arms around the tall, lanky frame of flamethrower Alexi Ogando.
They embraced for a few moments, pulled back, smiled at each other, laughed and hugged again. Instantly, a conversation without words between two men who speak different languages needed no interpretation.
Alexi Ogando gave up the tying home run, but the rest of the bullpen picked him up, including Scott Feldman, who was once an afterthought but picked up the win.
"It was like, 'Oh man, come on, I know, I know,' " Napoli said, referencing the 0-2, two-out fastball Ogando fired down the middle of the plate to Brandon Inge, who deposited the pitch over the wall to tie pivotal Game 4 at 3-3 just one inning after the Rangers rallied for the lead. "We're family. We all care for each other in here. You don't want something like that to happen."
All ended well despite Ogando's fastball not finding the outside target, his first misstep in three otherwise dominating outings in an ALCS that the Rangers now lead 3-1 with three chances to clinch a return trip the World Series.
Josh Hamilton, Napoli and Nelson Cruz, who delivered another amazing moon-shot, blew the game open in the 11th for the 7-3 win, but it was six more innings of stellar relief work from a rested and near-invincible bullpen that made it possible.
Of the five relievers that had a part in this huge win, none have been a member of this burgeoning family longer than Wednesday's winning pitcher, and perhaps fans tend to forget that about Feldman. The 6-foot-6 bearded wonder won 17 games as a starter in 2009, struggled in 2010 and then injured his right knee. The day after that season ended he underwent microfracture surgery, a procedure seen more in the NFL and NBA. He watched his teammates celebrate last year all the way to the World Series.
And for much of this season, Feldman was an afterthought among fans as he rehabbed in the shadows. Even later in the season as he made his return to the mound, results were sketchy and his future cloudy. Who knew if Feldman would be good enough to make the playoff roster?
"Pitching in the postseason is something new to me, and I'm having fun with it," Feldman said. "It's a lot of fun being on this team right now."
Feldman's long relief in Game 2 after starter Derek Holland faltered early allowed the Rangers to stay close and eventually win. His one inning Wednesday in the 10th also proved colossal as manager Ron Washington wanted to save closer Neftali Feliz for the final three outs, whenever those were to come. Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't have that luxury and turned to Jose Valverde for two innings.
Valverde got through the 10th, but the Rangers shelled him in the 11th for four runs before he could get two outs.
Feldman's 10th, with a little help from his battery mate Napoli, cleared the way for the offensive fireworks.
Feldman got Inge on a bouncer back to the box for the first out. Then, on an 0-1 pitch, he inexplicably sailed one across Austin Jackson's chest to put the Tigers' best threat to steal -- and the potential winning run -- on first base.
"That's the last thing you really want to do there is give a guy a free pass," Feldman said, "especially with Miguel Cabrera lurking around there."
With Ryan Raburn at the plate and Cabrera, whom the Rangers walked three times and once intentionally with the bases empty, was on deck. On cue, Jackson took off for second base. He didn't make it. Napoli popped up and gunned him down for the second out of the inning, kicking the door open to get out of it without facing Cabrera, who doubled in two in the third.
"Nap bailed me out big time," Feldman said. "He made a great throw. Unbelievable throw really. That was huge."
Feldman then got Raburn to chase a fastball that tailed off the plate for his fifth postseason strikeout to end the inning.
And now Feldman, who hasn't allowed a run or a walk and has surrendered just one hit in 5 1/3 relief innings, is one win away from his first World Series.
"He's been a huge part of our team for a long time now," Michael Young said. "When you have microfracture surgery that's no small thing. We all saw how good he was in 2009. He's shown many times what he means to this team. He's always been a great teammate. I think we're really happy now he's able to make contributions because he deserves it. He deserves the chance and he's capitalizing on it."