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Texas' bullpen turns page with strong Game 2

Texas' bullpen turns page with strong Game 2

ARLINGTON -- When right-hander Colby Lewis exited after just 5 2/3 innings, with the Rangers holding on to a 7-2 lead, it was easy to excuse the 50,362 fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington for holding their collective breaths on Saturday.

The Rangers' bullpen let a similar five-run lead slip late in a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday, and so Game 2 certainly wasn't over.

But the bullpen rebounded in a big way, as Clay Rapada, Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver, Darren O'Day and Neftali Feliz combined to throw 3 1/3 scoreless innings to shut the door on the Yankees, giving the franchise its first postseason win at home with a 7-2 victory.

"It was great for the bullpen," said Oliver, a 17-year veteran. "Everybody did their job. We came out and did what we're supposed to do, so things worked out for us."


It was Oliver's veteran leadership that helped the club get over its disappointing loss on Friday, when the Yankees erased a four-run deficit in the eighth inning by scoring five runs, with Oliver, O'Day and Rapada failing to record an out before Derek Holland gave up the game-winning single to Marcus Thames.

"One thing we learned to do, especially from Oliver, is to leave it on the field," O'Day said. "Just to leave it and move on. It's what you have to do if you're a relief pitcher. He does it better than anybody I've ever seen."

It's been Oliver's advice all season to simply forget about the performance from the day before and just focus on what can be controlled.

"If you dwell on it and take it into today's game, who knows what would've happened. We might've lost," Oliver said. "It's baseball, so you can't think about what happened yesterday. We have to worry only about today."

But it wasn't just Oliver who bounced back from a shaky performance in Game 1. Rapada was the first arm called in from the bullpen on Saturday and he didn't disappoint when he faced Thames -- who batted .300 against lefties this season -- with two on and two outs.

Rapada was able to strike out Thames on a sweeping slider for a big third out to thwart the Yankees' rally, and it was a sign of what was to come from the bullpen, which wasn't perfect but recorded huge outs with runners on base.

"It was a great confidence builder," Rapada said. "I wanted to go out there and throw strikes and be effective. So to come back following yesterday's performance, I erased it."

It was more of the same in the seventh inning with Ogando on the mound, as the rookie right-hander had two runners on with two outs, but he was able to strike out Robinson Cano with a high fastball to the end frame.

And in the eighth inning, it was Oliver who walked the first batter he saw. But he was able to strike out Jorge Posada and get Lance Berkman to ground out before O'Day was called in to face Thames, who promptly grounded out for the inning's third out.

Finally in the ninth, Feliz was called in for the first time in the series, and he struggled a bit by walking two batters. But he secured the victory by striking out Derek Jeter, inducing Alex Rodriguez into a weak groundout and getting Cano to fly out to left field.

It took a collective effort from five relievers, but Rangers manager Ron Washington felt confident in a bullpen that posted a 3.38 ERA in the regular season, which was the second-best mark in the AL behind only the Rays' 3.33 ERA.

"That's what they have been doing for us all year," Washington said. "That's how we got to this point. As I said last night, we didn't get it done. We didn't make any excuses about it. We took the whipping. I was going to give the ball back to those guys if it presented itself and it presented itself. They did a great job. I expected it."

That confidence wasn't lost on the players, either, as they also expected a bounce-back performance from the bullpen.

"I think we were happy to see them get an opportunity, because we knew they'd do well," third baseman Michael Young said. "We have a ton of confidence in the guys in the 'pen. So it was nice that it lined up so that they were able to get back out there and do their thing."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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