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Unhittable bullpen has Texas two wins from World Series

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Alexi Ogando is the second of five pitchers the Rangers bring in from the bullpen in Game 2. (US Presswire)  
Alexi Ogando is the second of five pitchers the Rangers bring in from the bullpen in Game 2. (US Presswire)  

ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter how it looks, this is not the plan.

The Rangers aren't trying to get their starting pitcher out of the game as soon as possible, just to get to their unhittable bullpen. They're not going into games asking their starters for a good five innings -- or sometimes a not-so-good 2 2/3.

They're not hoping to pull Game 3 starter Colby Lewis in the sixth inning Tuesday night -- or even earlier.

This is not the plan, no matter how well it has worked so far.

ALCS: Tigers at Rangers
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And one more thing: there is no magic dust in the home bullpen at Rangers Ballpark. I know, because I asked.

"If there is some, I need some," Scott Feldman said.

If there is some, he used some, and so did everyone else out there. If there is some, it's the biggest reason the Rangers are two wins away from a second straight World Series.

They don't win Game 2 against the Tigers without Nelson Cruz's game-tying home run in the seventh and his walk-off grand slam in the 11th (the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history). But Cruz is irrelevant if Feldman and the four guys who followed him give up even one run at the wrong time, after starter Derek Holland didn't make it out of the third.

Feldman went 4 1/3 innings and didn't allow a run. Alexi Ogando got the next five outs, and didn't allow a run. Neftali Feliz didn't allow a run. Mike Adams didn't allow a run. Eventually Cruz hit his home runs off Max Scherzer and Ryan Perry, and the Rangers won 7-3.

Two games into this series, two Rangers starters have faced 40 Tigers and allowed 20 of them to reach base. Two games into this series, the Rangers bullpen has faced 47 Tigers and allowed five hits.

And no runs.

So far in this postseason, the Rangers have played six games, and they've had one starting pitcher record an out in the sixth inning. One!

And they're 5-1.

The team with all the aces couldn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The team with starters who can't make it through the middle innings can't lose, because the guys who come in to pick up for them can't give up a hit.

"It's like a world-class relay team," said Mike Adams, who was technically Monday's winning pitcher. "Just hand over the baton."

And that part was the plan.

The plan wasn't for the starters to be this bad. But the plan was for the bullpen to be this good.

It's why Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his staff set out to acquire every top reliever available in July (and in August). It's why manager Ron Washington and his staff decided to put Ogando in the postseason bullpen.

The Rangers made it to the World Series last year in large part because they went out and traded for the best starting pitcher they could find (Cliff Lee). If they win two more games and make it back this year, it'll be because they worried a lot more about the guys who would follow the starters into the game.

As Ian Kinsler pointed out, the Rangers have so much bullpen depth that they can turn a one-time closer (Mike Gonzalez) into a one-batter lefty specialist. They have a one-time 17-game winner (Feldman) as a long man, one who kept Monday's game within reach by retiring 13 of the 15 Tigers he faced (with one reaching on a single, and another on an error).

"As long as our bullpen keeps doing what they're doing, we have a chance," Michael Young said.

The Rangers are 5-1 in the postseason even though their cleanup hitter is 3-for-23, finally breaking an 0-for-15 drought with the single that started the 11th inning Monday night. They're two wins from the World Series even though Josh Hamilton has had a so-so postseason, and even though Cruz was 2-for-18 before his big night Monday.

The Tigers' big hitters also have ugly numbers. Miguel Cabrera is 5-for-23, and Victor Martinez is 4-for-25.

But the worst number the Tigers have is this one: In 30 postseason innings against Yankee and Ranger relievers, the Tigers have scored exactly three runs.

"They've got great stuff, a great bullpen," Cabrera said. "But we've had chances to score, and we didn't do it."

That's sort of true. In the eight full innings after Holland left the game Monday, the Tigers had just one inning where they threatened. Even that threat came with two out, when Ramon Santiago singled off Ogando and Don Kelly followed with a double off Gonzalez.

It seemed at first that Santiago would score, but the ball caromed directly back to Cruz in right field, and with the middle of the order coming up third-base coach Gene Lamont wisely held Santiago at third.

The Rangers intentionally walked Cabrera, and shortstop Elvis Andrus followed with the defensive play of the game, catching Martinez's pop-up in shallow left-center field.

"Scariest play of the year," Andrus said. "I made it. I don't know how, because the ball never got in my glove."

He made it, and that was it for Tiger chances against Ranger relievers.

"Right now, they're locked in," Andrus said. "We really trust them 100 percent. Every time we see a reliever, we're in some peace."

That's true, even if they see the first reliever in the third inning, as they did Monday.

Plan or not, it is working. Plan or not, if it works six more times, the Rangers won't complain.

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