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Saturday, October 8, 2011
Updated: October 9, 9:10 AM ET
Rangers boast baseball's best bullpen

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz will receive most of the accolades, as they should, after their dominant performances helped the Rangers dispose of Detroit in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Ogando and Feliz were certainly dominant, striking out six of the 11 batters they faced. Ogando earned the win, and Feliz notched the save.

None of it would've been possible if Mike Gonzalez hadn't done his job in the fifth inning.

Mike Gonzalez
Mike Gonzalez's clutch out -- with the bases loaded in the fifth inning -- set the table for the Rangers' bullpen to lock down a Game 1 win.
Acquired before the waiver deadline specifically to face left-handed batters, the lefty needed just two pitches to retire Alex Avila with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning.

Texas 3, Detroit 2.

Now you should understand why Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said he didn't want to get into a bullpen war with the Rangers.

Right now, the Rangers have baseball's best bullpen -- and it's not debatable.

Washington has power arms such as Ogando, Feliz and Mike Adams to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and he can use Gonzalez, Koji Uehara, Darren Oliver and Yoshinori Tateyama as a bridge to those pitchers.

He can dictate matchups like he did Saturday night or he can react to the opposing manager's moves.

"I'll take my chances with our bullpen," he said. "They might not get it done every night because they're human, but I'll put it in their hands. I trust them."

Washington can thank Jon Daniels, who acquired Adams, Uehara and Gonzalez in the final two months of the season. Feliz and Oliver are the only relievers on the Opening Day roster who are active in this series.

C.J. Wilson didn't have his good stuff for the second consecutive postseason outing, but he battled through a tough Tigers lineup and rain delays of 41 and 69 minutes.

In the fifth inning, Wilson allowed a one-out, run-scoring single to Denton's Austin Jackson. Then, he gave up consecutive walks to load the bases. A wild pitch allowed Jackson to score, pulling the Tigers within a run.

A groundout and an intentional walk loaded the bases and brought the left-handed-hitting Avilla to the plate. That's when the heavy rain began for the second time, effectively ending Wilson's day.

Washington has always liked Gonzalez because he's unpredictably wild, which means batters can't get comfortable against him.

Last week in the ALDS, Gonzalez blew away Johnny Damon in a key at-bat in Game 3. This time, he retired Avilla, who chased a letter-high inside fastball, which resulted in a grounder to second.

"We told him to be patient," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "Gonzalez has great stuff. Once in awhile, he can get wild. He threw ball one, and it was probably ball two.

"You're geared up, probably for the fastball after the breaking ball. That's not easy to come out after the rain delay. That's a tough situation for anybody."

Once Gonzalez maneuvered the Rangers out of that jam, their bullpen dominated the rest of the game.

It allowed one hit -- a ninth-inning drag bunt -- and two baserunners in 4.1 innings, while striking out eight as the Rangers won their fourth consecutive postseason game.

Three have been decided by one run -- not bad for a club that had never won a one-run game in the playoffs until last week.

Ogando is the key because he gives Washington flexibility.

Since he spent the season as a starter, Ogando can go multiple innings like he did Saturday. He excels because hitters must sit on his 97 mph fastball, which means they have no chance when he throws his slider.

When Ogando starts, batters face him multiple times, allowing them to make adjustments. When he comes out of the bullpen, they get one crack.

"He's in his element," Washington said. "What a weapon. He can do whatever we need him to do."

In the ninth inning, Feliz turned in a dominant performance to record his third consecutive one-run save.

After Ramon Santiago reached on a bunt, Feliz struck out the side.

"I was standing on the rail when Feliz pitched, and it was pure heat," Oliver said. "He has that short stride and easy motion and he just pumps it up there.

"Ogando is our secret weapon. When he and Feliz pitch like they did tonight, it's a joke."

Detroit isn't laughing.