10/13/07 5:16 AM ET
Pena shines, while Valverde pines
Closer laments walking in go-ahead run in 11th inning
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
For Arizona closer Jose Valverde, the emotions went from elation to disgust. And his thoughts went from "Oh, how good" to "Boy, how come?" After the 10th inning at Chase Field on Friday night, the D-backs closer walked off the mound, pumping his fists, yelling at himself, showcasing the emotional intensity his teammates have learned to love.
But in a game that always has a way of humbling those who play it, Valverde felt just how cruel that lesson can be.
"I felt so good," Valverde said in front of a throng of media after the D-backs' crushing 3-2 loss to the Rockies in Game 2 of the NLCS. "Today I don't know what it was all about."
What it was all about was simple from a spectator's point of view -- walks. And as a result, the Arizona closer who led the Majors with 47 saves this season simply couldn't get it done on Friday.
Called on to preserve a tie game in the 10th, Valverde emphatically answered with a 1-2-3 inning. However, for just the second time in 66 games this year, Valverde was asked to work a full second inning of relief.
The result proved detrimental to Arizona's hopes of salvaging a split at home. A squibber that didn't even make it 90 feet resulted in a leadoff single for Colorado in the 11th and was followed by three walks, the last of which forced in the eventual winning run.
The loss left the D-backs in an intimidating 0-2 deficit, and it also left questions seeking answers. Should Valverde, who had not thrown more than 32 pitches in any game this season, have been left in to throw 42? Could fatigue have played a part in his command not being at its sharpest?
"You've got to keep him in there," said Arizona manager Bob Melvin afterward, defending his decision. "He's the closer. You've got to at least go with your best until they get a run."
Valverde, too, wasn't about to blame the result on fatigue.
"I wasn't tired," said Valverde, who entered the game with seven straight scoreless appearances. "I felt good. I felt as good as I had all year. I tried to throw my sinker and it wasn't going in. I was just trying to get by."
The sour conclusion for Valverde overshadowed a D-backs bullpen that for five innings on Friday was nothing short of fantastic.
Living up to its distinction as one of the biggest assets within this Arizona club, four D-backs relievers not only did everything they needed to in order to give their offense hope at stringing together a late-inning rally, but they did so in convincing fashion.
"It feels great to know they are coming in," said Arizona starter Doug Davis, who allowed one earned run in five innings on Friday. "It feels like every time I come out, there are always interesting situations where you know they're going to do their job."
A combination of Juan Cruz, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and, for an inning, Valverde, did just that.
Consider this: From innings six through 10, Arizona pitchers faced just two hitters over the minimum, and neither of the two baserunners who reached made it past first. Seven of the 15 outs were recorded via strikeout -- all swinging -- and as a result, Arizona was able to stay a run behind.
No one, however, shined brighter than Pena, who has been nearly unhittable in the postseason. After striking out all three hitters he faced in Game 1 on Thursday, Pena returned to strike out the side in his first inning of work on Friday.
The six straight strikeouts by Pena marked a first in League Championship Series history. The previous high of five had been done four times by three different pitchers.
"He's throwing strikes and mixing his pitches well," said D-backs catcher Chris Snyder, who was behind the plate on Friday. "He's calmed down, attacking guys and going right at them." With two scoreless innings of work, Pena, who left the D-backs clubhouse before media was granted access, has pitched five scoreless innings of relief for Arizona this postseason. "He's not trying to go out there like he was last year," said Lyon, who pitched a scoreless ninth on Friday. "He's throwing stuff over the plate, being aggressive against all hitters, and that's a big adjustment in this league. When you make pitches over the plate early, you can expand the zone a little bit and that's what he's been doing."
Most Consecutive LCS Strikeouts
|D-backs reliever Tony Pena struck out three straight Rockies Friday, giving him six in a row in his first two League Championship Series outings, setting a new LCS record.|
|6||Tony Pena||D-backs||Oct. 11-12, 2007|
|5||Curt Schilling||Phillies||Oct. 6, 1993|
|5||Mark Wohlers||Braves||Oct. 7-10, 1993|
|5||Mike Mussina||Orioles||Oct 11, 1997|
|5||Mike Mussina||Yankees||Oct. 12, 2004|
The two-inning appearance for Pena marked the first time since July 28 that the 25-year-old right-hander had worked more than an inning in relief. It came after Pena's work was heavily limited to an inning or less in the final two months of the season, as the young right-hander worked to become mentally stronger.Any issues about mental toughness seem to be a non-issue with the way he has since stepped up in October.
For Pena, however, the fact that his name is now scribbled in the postseason record books proved to be a sidenote by the end of a discouraging night for Arizona.
The D-backs will head to Colorado knowing that the Rockies beat their best. And it's safe to say that if Melvin were to have the same hand again, he'd take his chances playing it exactly how he did.
"We've played a lot of close games," Melvin said. "We've won a lot of close games, and that has a lot to do with Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.