Sweet relief: Bullpen shutting door
Dotel, Thornton and Jenks deny Rays in Sox latest effort
CHICAGO -- There is blame to go around for the White Sox losses in Games 1 and 2 of their American League Division Series against the Rays, but no finger can be pointed at the relievers.
And after a 5-3 victory in Game 3 on Sunday, the White Sox would be wise to send some collective thanks their bullpen's way.
Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of the must-win game, surrendering just one hit, one walk and no runs.
The one out Dotel recorded was perhaps the defining moment of the game. John Danks ran out of gas in the seventh inning, giving up a two-run homer to B.J. Upton followed by a single off the bat of Carlos Pena.
With Danks' pitch count at 105, manager Ozzie Guillen gave the ball to Dotel with a two-run lead to face Evan Longoria, the frontrunner for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Dotel immediately got ahead on the rookie, 0-2, but two sliders didn't fool him. The second ball got away from catcher A.J. Pierzynski to put Pena on second, making the situation that much more critical. Dotel followed that with a letter-high fastball that was called for strike three, causing the 40,000-plus on hand at U.S. Cellular Field to erupt with applause.
"To be honest with you, I don't want to give anything good to that guy because everybody knows how tough he is," Dotel said. "I just tried to get ahead, throw strike 1 and strike 2. That's why I threw back-to-back sliders. That didn't work out, so I just came back with my fastball. Thank God he took it because he's one of the hitters you've got to be afraid of."
Longoria expressed some displeasure with home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa's call, but the White Sox were already off the field.
Thornton and Dotel earned their first holds of the postseason, and Jenks picked up his first save, giving him a total of four in his postseason career.
Even though the bullpen didn't have a chance to earn praise during the first two games of the series, it still got the job done. All told this postseason, the bullpen has allowed one run in seven innings.
The White Sox went 12-15 in September, and many of those losses can be attributed to the bullpen's 5.79 ERA in the month. But the relievers seem to have turned a corner, playing their best baseball when they need it most.
"We're fresh. We're getting days off. There's no excuses anymore," Thornton said. "You have to get the job done. That's what we get paid to do. It's our job, and everybody's doing it right now."
"Earlier we had a little tough time," Dotel added. "But we got guys in the bullpen that have a lot of experience, and they know what they got to do. And they know how to handle a situation like today."
David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.