Commentary

Rangers 'pen embraces zero tolerance

Praise Nelson Cruz if you must, but battle-tested relievers haven't allowed run in ALCS

Updated: October 11, 2011, 1:04 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Zeroes.

That's how Mike Adams sees it. Perfectly round, fat zeroes.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireMidseason acquisition Mike Adams is part of a battle-tested Rangers bullpen that has limited opposing batters in the postseason.
It's as if the Rangers' bullpen is suddenly full of those street-corner newspaper hawkers of yesteryear.

"Goose eggs! Get your goose eggs right here! Get 'em while they're hot."

Everybody in the Texas 'pen is producing 'em. Nobody on the other team wants anything to do with them.

Go ahead, give Nelson Cruz his due for his walk-off grand slam; he deserves it. But any in-depth analysis of how the Texas Rangers won Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, 7-3 in 11 innings Monday at The Ballpark in Arlington, will come to one very simple conclusion: The bullpen won this one.

Second point: Maybe it's time we got used to it.

"This bullpen is very special," Adams said after the bullpen shut the Detroit Tigers down for the game's final 8 1/3 innings, handing Texas a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. "It's a playoff bullpen.

"The bullpen is a very important aspect of the game and not a lot of people understand the importance of a bullpen. This bullpen, the way it's put together, it's put together to put up zeroes."

Zero, after zero, after zero. In 27 2/3 postseason innings, the Texas bullpen has surrendered just 19 hits and only seven runs. In the ALCS, it hasn't been scored on in 12 2/3 innings.

If there is one major reason why the Rangers will not become just the fourth team (of 22) in LCS history to blow a 2-0 advantage it's because they will win the war of the bullpens with the Tigers, no small feat since Detroit's bullpen isn't too shabby either. It just doesn't have the depth that the Texas 'pen does.

Then again, what team does?

As the trading deadline approached, the bullpen was the one area where Rangers general manager Jon Daniels thought he could improve the team. He did that by swinging deals for Adams with San Diego and Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez in separate deals with Baltimore.

"Honestly, it seemed pretty simple in terms of what the team needed," said Daniels, who should be a shoo-in for American League Executive of the Year. "Our offense was good and the rotation had been good. The one area that we'd been inconsistent in was in the bullpen.

"We thought the bullpen was an area where we could get help, and since it would be a need next year, some of these guys would be able to help us next year, too."

Even better, each of the three relievers the Rangers brought in had some experience as closers. They were familiar with pressure situations, the kind that can come in any inning in the playoffs.

"It certainly helps," Daniels said. "We got guys who throw strikes, who have an out pitch, who have pitched in big spots."

They all seem huge when a playoff game is on the line.

"When you get to this point of the year, you'd better have a good bullpen," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You want your starters to get you deep into the game, but runs are scarce in the playoff and you need your bullpen to extend the game, like it did tonight."

[+] EnlargeScott Feldman
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireScott Feldman's 4 1/3 shutout innings in Game 2 allowed the Rangers' bullpen to stay in decent shape for Tuesday.
Especially when your starter -- young Derek Holland in this case -- lasts just 2 2/3 innings. That's the kind of early exit that can decimate a bullpen for days. But thanks to 4 1/3 shutout innings from Scott Feldman, the Rangers not only survived Holland's early demise but should still be in decent shape for Game 3 on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

"I think they all [except Feldman] can go back [Tuesday night]," Washington said. "[Alexi] Ogando said he could have stayed out there and given us another inning. Everyone's available. The job tonight was done by [Feldman].

"Ogando might be the only one I'm not completely sure about. We'll see how he feels tomorrow."

The bullpen was already a strong point, but being able to move starters Feldman and Ogando out there, too, has made it even stronger.

"They're the ones who have given us some length," Daniels agreed.

While Feldman did the yeoman's work, it was closer Neftali Feliz who stared down the Tigers in the game's most crucial situation of the game in the ninth. And it was Washington's gutsy decision to intentionally walk dangerous Miguel Cabrera to load the bases that made it especially hairy.

Ramon Santiago had flared a two-out single off Ogando, who worked 1 2/3 innings, and Don Kelly beat the lefty-on-lefty move by Washington, doubling off southpaw specialist Gonzalez. The Tigers could have pushed things by sending Santiago and challenging the relay throw but chose to play it safe with the middle of the order coming up.

Washington didn't hesitate, first waving in Feliz and then ordering him to give Cabrera, the American League batting champion, a free pass to load the bases.

"Wash had done that [had him walk Cabrera intentionally] already once this season," Feliz said afterward. "I told him, 'OK, but I'm ready to pitch to anyone out there.' "

It was a risky move for several reasons. No. 1, Feliz has been known to have control problems from time to time. No. 2, home plate umpire Larry Vanover's strike zone was erratic, at best. No. 3, Martinez is no slouch in RBI situations either.

"You had to pick your poison there," Washington said. "You had to decide if you wanted to give Cabrera a chance to beat you, or you had to go with Martinez, who can also beat you.

"When this series started, we said we were not going to give Cabrera a chance to swing the bat and beat us, so Martinez had to do it."

He almost did, too. He lofted one of those 'tweeners toward center field and it was obvious Josh Hamilton was not going to be able to get to it. That left it to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who snared the flare on the run with his back to the infield. It snowconed into his glove and popped back out, but he managed to cradle it against his chest.

As it was, Cabrera almost did the Rangers in anyway in the top of the 11th, driving a spinning Adams cutter high and deep to right center with a man on and two out. Hamilton ran it down on the warning track.

"My approach [to Cabrera] was to keep the ball down, be aggressive with him, keep the ball out of the middle of the plate," Adams said. "The pitch that he hit, when it came out of my hand I knew it was a mistake. I got lucky with it and he got under it just enough."

Hey, at least he got him out. Going into that at-bat, Cabrera was a perfect 4-for-4 in his career against Adams.

But that's the kind of roll the Rangers' bullpen is on right now.

In the first two games of the ALCS, it's produced 12 2/3 innings of Adams' all-time favorite number and if that continues, the Tigers have exactly the same chance of winning this series.

Zero.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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