ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alexi Ogando showed his unflappable nature, even amid the sting of a clubhouse cocktail of cheap champagne, beer and ginger ale moments after the Texas Rangers' 4-3 victory in Game 4 of the ALDS clinched a second straight trip to the ALCS.
As he did a TV interview Tuesday, Ogando was drenched by teammates intent on soaking him from head to toe. He simply stood there, letting the liquid slide down his head, wiped himself off and kept talking into the camera. Then, with no one looking, he made sure to get those teammates back.
Ogando, it seems, isn't bothered by any situation. He switched from the bullpen to the rotation just days before the season, thanks to an injury to Tommy Hunter, and became an All-Star. He went from starter to reliever in the playoffs after struggling in the rotation in the second half. And now he's pitching in a variety of pivotal, late-inning spots and seemingly doing it with ease.
Ogando is an example of what has carried the Rangers back to the American League Championship Series, and what they'll need to defend their AL title and return to the World Series. Adrian Beltre certainly did a great Reggie Jackson imitation Tuesday with three homers that will grab plenty of headlines. But it was the depth of the Rangers' pitching staff that proved to be the big difference in the AL Division Series.
"To reach where we have reached, it takes pitching," manager Ron Washington said, his eyes stinging from champagne. "You don't win because you beat the heck out of people in the playoffs. You win because you pitch. We faced some pretty good teams in Tampa that can pitch. But the Texas Rangers are showing we can pitch, too."
The bats carried the Rangers in September, but it will be the pitching staff that does the heavy lifting in October. The postseason is when the games get tight and the tension mounts. Last year, the Rangers benefitted from some lopsided playoff scores. But this year, it's clear runs are going to be at a premium. After sweating through one of the more stressful playoff games in recent memory in Game 3, the Rangers had to maneuver the pitching staff in the late innings again in Game 4.
The result: a 4-3 win that showcased the club's versatility on the mound. Ogando was the prime example. He pitched the scoreless sixth inning in Game 2, and got the Rangers out of a major jam with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh in Game 3, allowing just one run. And he was out on the mound in the eighth inning of Game 4, making Evan Longoria look a little silly by locating two sliders for strikes and then blowing a fastball by him. He got the next two batters he faced and handed the game to Neftali Feliz, who closed it out.
"They showed a lot of confidence in me doing this," Ogando said through a translator. "Coming off starting, I felt real strong. I was ready to pitch one or two innings. I feel good getting rest. Mentally, I feel like one or two innings is no problem after going through the whole year as a starter."
But Ogando wasn't the only pitcher to make a difference. The Rangers have 11 of them on the playoff roster, and all pitched in the series.
For many playoff teams, a rough loss by a No. 1 starter in a five-game series can be the difference between going home or moving on. But with the Rangers' depth, they simply picked up C.J. Wilson. Derek Holland grinded out a solid start in Game 2. Colby Lewis, bad hip and all, was a gamer in Game 3, mowing down the Rays' lineup in the tension-filled victory. Matt Harrison, the fourth man in the rotation, matched his career high with nine strikeouts and went five innings, allowing the bullpen to take it from there.
"We're winning as a staff," assistant GM Thad Levine said. "Our pitchers aren't winning as individuals, but as a team. We're using every single guy. I can't think of us winning without any one of those guys."
Pitching coach Mike Maddux asked Holland how he felt before Game 3, and Holland told him he'd be in the bullpen and ready. He was needed one day later in Game 4 and pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Mike Gonzalez, picked up for Pedro Strop before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline, threw three of the best pitches of the series in Game 3 to retire Johnny Damon in a tight spot in the eighth inning. That at-bat alone made the trade worth it.
Mike Adams, who gave up a home run to Desmond Jennings in Game 3 and then couldn't find the plate after that, redeemed himself less than 24 hours later. He came into the game with one out in the seventh and faced Jennings, getting him to ground out and then striking out B.J. Upton.
"It was a reminder that he's a good pitcher," Maddux said of Adams' performance Tuesday. "We talked a little bit today about the approach and had a little heart to heart. He was good. Wash put him back out there to get him right back on that mule. That's a credit to Wash. He's a players' manager the whole way. He doesn't give up on anybody."
And Washington, along with Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, managed the pitching staff beautifully in the series, getting the favorable matchups and taking advantage of the club's depth.
"This is the deepest staff I think we've ever had from top to bottom," Hawkins said. "They go out there and get guys out. You have to like what you see right now. We just have to keep it going."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.