NEW YORK -- If not for a Game 1 bullpen meltdown, the Rangers would just be waiting for an opponent to play in the World Series.
But there’s no point crying over one blown lead. Not after the bullpen has played a significant role in the Rangers seizing a 3-1 lead over the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The bullpen has pitched 10 shutout innings during Texas’ trio of victories this series. The Rangers’ relievers had their best postseason performance yet – and their most work – in Tuesday’s Game 4 win.
Young lefty Derek Holland was the workhorse, taking over for Tommy Hunter with one out and the bases loaded in the fourth inning. Only one inherited runner scored, and Holland earned the win by giving up one hit in 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Old lefty Darren Oliver, a Game 1 goat after walking the only two batters he faced, came up clutch with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning. Oliver got out of the jam by getting Nick Swisher to hit a shallow fly ball to center field and inducing an inning-ending grounder to third by Lance Berkman.
“What happened in Game 1, we can’t change it,” said Oliver, who earned the save with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. “All we can do is live day to day, pitch by pitch, inning by inning. That’s what the guys have done. This was a big one.”
Added sidearmer Darren O’Day: “We knew we were better than that in Game 1. I don’t know that we’d be where we are if we didn’t have a good bullpen. Obviously, the hitters have been showing off this series. We’re glad to get in there and do our part.”
It’s especially enjoyable for the bullpen to get the job done in such a hostile environment. The Yankee Stadium yahoos have a reputation for riding the opposing relievers while they watch the game from the bullpen located in left field. The fans have been relentless the last couple of nights, mixing in some occasional wit with a lot of words not suitable for print.
“It’s almost like a beehive down there,” said the 40-year-old Oliver, who found jokes about him cashing social security checks humorous. “Someone kicked it and they were on us quick. That’s what they do in New York. Some of the things they say are pretty tough, but some of the things they say when they don’t get personal are pretty funny. I get a chuckle out of it.”
The Rangers’ relievers, a punchline after Game 1, got the last laugh.