Lyon, Pena a crucial duo for D-backs
Righty setup men have formed strong bridge to closer Valverde
PHOENIX -- It's a story of two paths, leading to the same end, motivated by the same goal, but having gone through different courses to get there.
There's Brandon Lyon, who has dabbled in every role as a Major League pitcher. A starter at the beginning of his career, Lyon found himself pushed to a bullpen role within three years. He took the reins as a closer for a short time before ending up going from a D-backs uniform to a surgical table.
Then there's Tony Pena, a 25-year-old who hasn't had so many obstacles. Actually, he hasn't really known anything besides success in his short time in the big leagues.
The journeys may have had little in common, but combined, the two right-handed relievers form a formidable and often impenetrable relief tandem that quite frankly has been one of the biggest keys in putting Arizona eight wins away from its second World Series title.
"Psychologically, we've been through enough that if we're in close games, especially going into that seventh inning, we feel like we're going to win," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "It doesn't happen like that all the time, but based on experiences we've had this season and how we've gotten here, that's probably been first and foremost in our success."
With the credentials that Jose Valverde has earned, forming a bridge from the starting pitching to the closer was going to be critical for the D-backs to develop sustained success.
So when Arizona manager Bob Melvin came out of Spring Training designating Pena as his seventh-inning reliever and Lyon as his go-to setup man in the eighth, he put the fate of his team -- better put, the immediate future of his team -- in the hands of a pitcher of many trades and a rookie playing his first full Major League season.
Seven months later, Lyon and Pena have made Melvin look good.
The D-backs played 49 one-run games, winning 31 of them, and as Melvin added: "That has a lot to do with Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde."
The Pena-Lyon duo may not be earning national accolades, but in the D-backs' clubhouse, the credit is overflowing. Asked if his team would be preparing to face the Rockies in the opening game of the National League Championship Series without the season-long success from Pena and Lyon, D-backs starter Doug Davis never hesitated.
"No chance," Davis answered. "You are only as strong as your weakest link, and when you have somebody that can't perform that late in the game, they are going to give up the tying, if not winning, run. They've been the strongest part in keeping our wins intact. They are coming in and sticking the nail in the coffin."
It didn't take anyone in the Arizona clubhouse long to notice that Pena had a special arm. He burst into the league last season not intimidated by the big league stage, and with the necessary ability to forget about a bad outing by the time he took off his cleats after the game. And this year, his teammates continued to watch him grow.
"This year, what he's done and how capable he is of pitching in these roles and how good he's done, is just great to watch," Lyon said of Pena. "It's great to watch him from Day 1 to this point in the season make the adjustments when he needs to."
As a result, Melvin didn't hesitate putting the young right-hander into a critical late-inning role. He would hand Pena the ball and deliver him the same message of confidence.
"He said,'You [are] my boy,'" Pena recalled. "'He just said, 'You can do it,' and I'm OK when somebody says that."
And Pena flourished. He held right-handers to a .176 average during the season and posted sub-2.00 ERAs in three different months. His 12 consecutive innings of scoreless relief during June was the longest such streak by an Arizona reliever, and he allowed just 10 of the 38 baserunners he inherited to score.
"I've done everything the same this year," Pena said, trying to put his finger on his prolonged success. "I haven't changed anything. And in the playoffs, I'll keep doing the same with mechanics."
|"They've been the strongest part in keeping our wins intact. They are coming in and sticking the nail in the coffin."|
|-- Doug Davis, on Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon|
For Lyon, the numbers and the results are much of the same. The 2.68 ERA he finished the season with was more than one run lower than his ERA in any of his previous five seasons. The 22 walks he allowed in 74 innings is evidence of his dominant control, while the fact that he limited opponents to just two homers in that span is a statement to his pitch command.
"I've always liked being in the bullpen and being put in situations where you are given the lead and can give your team a chance to win," said Lyon, who has pitched solely out of the bullpen for the past four seasons. "I wouldn't say that it matters being in the eighth or ninth inning for me, it just matters being put in those situations. I love doing it."
On a national scale, Lyon and Pena introduced themselves with a coming-out party of sorts during a sweep of Chicago in the NL Division Series.
Lyon pitched scoreless eighth innings in all three games, allowing just two baserunners. Pena came in and pitched scoreless seventh innings in Games 2 and 3.
But where credit is due, Melvin is ready to give it.
"They certainly get it within our clubhouse," Melvin said. "We take contributions from our roster, but no more important than from those three guys."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.