DHL Delivery Man voting has begun
Fans part of process to choose Majors' top reliever
Mariano Rivera has been his old dominant self for the Yankees in the homestretch of this regular season, but someone else is going to have to take his place as this year's recipient of the DHL Delivery Man of the Year Award.
And you are the one who will decide.
Voting is under way through Oct. 8 exclusively at MLB.com for the award that honors the top reliever in the 2007 Major League Baseball season, and the winner will be announced during the postseason. These are the finalists from which you may choose:
Francisco Cordero of the Brewers, Trevor Hoffman of the Padres, Jason Isringhausen of the Cardinals, Bobby Jenks of the White Sox, Joe Nathan of the Twins, Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox, J.J. Putz of the Mariners, Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels, Takashi Saito of the Dodgers and Jose Valverde of the D-backs.
Everyone who votes will be entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win a two-day, one-night trip for two to Game 4 of this year's World Series. The prize will include round-trip airfare if needed to some National League locale at the Fall Classic, as well as accommodations, two tickets to the game and two DHL goody bags.
To create the ballot, the editorial staff at MLB.com compiled a list of 15 relievers who have had outstanding regular seasons. The 10 finalists then were chosen from the list by a special Major League Baseball yellow-ribbon panel that consists of Mike Bauman, national columnist for MLB.com; nine-time All-Star Goose Gossage; Darryl Hamilton, former Major League outfielder and a member of the MLB On-Field Operations staff; Jerome Holtzman, the official MLB Historian and a member of the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame; and Bob Watson, MLB vice president, on-field operations.
Here is a closer look at the 10 finalists:
Cordero: When Scott Thorman of the Braves hit a crucial game-tying homer off him to force extra innings in Saturday's loss at Atlanta, it was shocking. Cordero had surrendered only one other homer this season. He has been virtually automatic, and with 44 saves, he entered the week just two away from Valverde for the league lead. On Sept. 4, Cordero set the franchise record with his 40th save.
"It's nice, but really, I'm not here for a record," Cordero said then. "We're trying to go to the playoffs and trying to win every series. That's the main goal. The record is really nice. ... But I'm sure the team and the ownership and the whole city of Milwaukee, they just want us to win the division and go to the playoffs."
Jenks: The big righty who threw the last pitch of the 2005 season for the world champion White Sox has held his course as one of the game's elite closers. He entered the week with 39 saves in 45 opportunities and had yielded just 43 hits over 63 innings. The highlight of his year was his record-tying streak of 41 consecutive batters retired; it ended with a Joey Gathright leadoff single in the ninth inning of a home game on Aug. 20.
"I'm focused when I go out there," Jenks said. "I know who is coming up. I'm looking at scouting reports and trying to figure out what I need to do."
Hoffman: The Padres' great became the first pitcher ever to reach 500 career saves back in June, and on Sept. 20, he extended his own Major League record of most seasons with 40 or more saves to nine. And as the steady closer for a team that entered the week on top of the National League Wild Card standings, he is still hoping to be the team's only bridge between its 1998 World Series appearance and at least one more.
"Playing in 65 games is difficult, but I've learned how to handle it," Hoffman said. "I've prepared myself to be ready each day, I feel like I'm on top of the ball. I still feel like I could compete for a few more years."
Isringhausen: There weren't enough victories in 2007 for the defending world champs, but "Izzy" returned to the commanding form he had showed before season-ending hip surgery in September 2006.
"That's all I was wanting to do when I came back," he said. Isringhausen has blown only two saves this season in 32 opportunities, fashioning a 4-0 record and 2.32 ERA with a .267 batting-average against.
Nathan: Once again, the 32-year-old right-hander has made do with the limited chances he's been given. Nathan is 34-for-38 in save opportunities this season and holds a 1.98 ERA over 68 1/3 innings. One more save, and he will extend his Twins franchise record of consecutive seasons with 35 or more saves to four.
"I never believed the save number was a big deal," Nathan said. "It's almost like the win for a starter except you're relying on even more stuff as a closer. So I've always been a big believer in just getting out there and doing your job when you are asked to take the ball, whether it's a save opportunity or not."
Papelbon: Seeing him entering to the sound of "Wild Thing" for a typical ninth inning at Fenway in 2007 has been a happening. Papelbon entered the week with 36 saves and a dominating 13.34 strikeouts per nine innings. In August, the 26-year-old All-Star became the first Red Sox pitcher in history with two seasons of 30 saves.
"It's a huge honor for me," Papelbon said. "When I moved into this role, it was a goal that I set for myself to go out there and be a dominant closer -- to do this not only just one year, but year after year."
Putz: It's generally three up, three down in the ninth when Putz comes in. Besides the 29 consecutive converted saves to start the season and earning his first All-Star nod, Putz maintained a sub-1.00 ERA from June 27 through July 31 and through Sunday had not allowed more than one batter to reach base in each of his 68 1/3 innings of work. You can't get much better than an 0.69 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched).
"I think if you asked the other teams about him, they would say he's No. 1 or 2 in the league," Mariners manager John McLaren said. "He has been consistently great all season."
Rodriguez: The AL's saves leader the past two seasons, Rodriguez had 38 saves through Sunday after getting the final three outs of the AL West clincher against the Mariners. He has a chance to reach 40 for the third consecutive season. In 62 appearances, Rodriguez has a 2.89 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 32 walks.
"My background, I guess that's where it comes from," said K-Rod, who grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. "The places I grew up, it was difficult. I guess it was good and bad at the same time. I grew up in a tough neighborhood. The stronger survive -- that's how I see it. ... Once I cross that line, take that mound, I'm in charge."
Saito: The 37-year-old from Miyagi, Japan, entered the week with 39 saves. It was the most for a pitcher from Japan behind Seattle's Kaz Sasaki, who had 45 in 2001. Saito assumed the role from Gagne with similar dominance, converting 47 of his first 50 saves, the best percentage to start a career in Major League history. Saito's strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost 7-to-1, tops in 2007 for players with at least 50 innings pitched.
"My only goal when I came here from Japan was to pitch on a Major League mound," Saito said. "I never expected any specific accomplishment besides that."
Valverde: From the start of Spring Training, Valverde focused on throwing just two pitches -- a mid-90s fastball and split-finger pitch. The result has been a consistent season of saving games for a D-backs team in the thick of a pennant race. He entered the week with a league-best 46 saves.
"There's never been a question about his stuff," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "In the past, sometimes he's had a hard time bouncing back after a tough outing. This year, though, he's been able to put the rare bad game behind him and move on."
Throughout the 2007 season, the panel also selected the reliever who gave each month's most dominant performance. The 2007 winners of the "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" include Cordero (April), Hoffman (May), Putz (June), Billy Wagner (July) and Saito (August).
This is the third year of a multiyear sponsorship agreement that makes DHL the official "Official Express Delivery and Logistics Provider" of Major League Baseball and MLB.com. The partnership represents a multifaceted program including exclusive shipping arrangements, two MLB-sanctioned awards and a comprehensive MLB-themed advertising campaign. In addition, DHL is also the title sponsor of All-Star FanFest, the interactive baseball theme park that is the cornerstone of All-Star Week.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Team reporters from MLB.com contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.