Rangers sweat out ride on bullpen carousel
Washington needs five relievers to record final nine outs
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rangers manager Ron Washington deemed the final two hours of Monday's lengthy battle with the Rays "three of the toughest innings that we experienced all year."
The Texas skipper was forced to use five relievers in that span, following a rather effortless one-run performance by starter Colby Lewis. Every decision proved crucial, and though some did not work in his favor, the ones that did helped him celebrate a nerve-racking 4-3 Game 3 victory in the American League Division Series.
Such a win -- and a 2-1 advantage in the ALDS -- appeared to be slipping away quickly when right-hander Mike Adams entered a 4-2 contest in the eighth. He was looking to stabilize a lead that had already been narrowed in the seventh when the veteran arm of Darren Oliver surrendered three consecutive hits before Alexi Ogando bailed him out by letting just one inherited runner score via Sean Rodriguez's RBI groundout before inducing another grounder to end the frame.
But the usually highly dependable Adams offered up Desmond Jennings' second home run of the game -- a leadoff shot to left field on a 2-2 pitch -- before furthering the damage by walking three batters, something he had done just once before in his career and not since April 2005 while with Milwaukee.
The speedy B.J. Upton was responsible for drawing the first free pass. Very much needing an out, Adams -- not so much known for holding runners -- threw a pitchout to batterymate Mike Napoli, who proceeded to toss out Upton on an attempted steal for the second time this series. But Adams, despite gaining what could have been quite the momentum shift, didn't take advantage of a clean basepath, instead walking Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce.
"Mike just didn't have it tonight," Washington said. "He was battling his butt off out there, but he just didn't have it."
But he got a pick-me-up from Mike Gonzalez, whose lone job was to set down Johnny Damon. Three strikes later, Damon was gone, and -- as expected -- so was Gonzalez after just one-third of an inning.
"I know I had to get it done," Gonzalez said. "I know my role and that's to get left-handers out in that situation. You just have to focus and get it done."
"From that point," Washington said, "we had decided if Mike had gotten Johnny, that we was going to have to use Neffy for four outs."
Enter Neftali Feliz. Just seven times this year in the regular season, he threw at least 25 pitches, with five resulting in blown saves. He was going to have to tally four outs, making that dangerous 25-pitch mark a real possibility.
He reached it. And on pitch No. 25, with Rodriguez running at first base, Kelly Shoppach grounded it to third, where Adrian Beltre started a game-ending double play.
"We're in the playoffs," Feliz said. "I know I have to do whatever they ask me to do. One inning, two innings, it doesn't matter."
Overall, Texas' bullpen -- which racked up a 4.11 ERA during the regular season, second-worst in the AL -- has given up a combined seven runs in 10 innings during the series. But the 30 outs acquired during that time have proved of greater significance.
"I really wasn't worried too much," Lewis said. "Our bullpen has been pretty phenomenal all year long. Of course Mike [Adams] had a little hiccup, but it is not very often that guy has a hiccup. And Gonzo came in and did his job, and Feliz, of course, stepped up for the four outs."
"That was one intense ballgame," Washington said. "And we needed everything that we got from everyone today."