ST. PETERSBURG -- Rangers closer Neftali Feliz said the problem was with the mound."There was a hole in the front of it where I was landing," Feliz said. "It made it tough to throw my pitches."
It was not a good time to be struggling with the landscape. The Rangers had a four-run lead going into the ninth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Rays on Wednesday, and Feliz was out there to finish the job. Instead he walked Carlos Pena and pinch-hitter Dan Johnson to start the inning.That's when pitching coach Mike Maddux and catcher Bengie Molina both went to the mound. Feliz's English is limited. Molina is fluent in both English and Spanish. "I am deferring all issues to Bengie Molina," Maddux said. "I went out there and said what I did in Spanglish, Benjie kicked in his Spanish and that's when I said 'No comprendo' and left. I said you all take care of it. I got some key points across." And that was what? "Get after 'em, man," Maddux said. "If they beat you, they beat you, but let's freaking go." Feliz also had a little chat with himself. "I talked to myself and I said, 'I have to be ahead in the count and keep my pitches down,'" Feliz said. "That's all I said." That was more than enough. Feliz, even though it wasn't a save situation, retired the next three hitters and the Rangers held on for a 5-1 win. "After the first out, you saw some calm in him," Maddux said. "We are talking about a young kid who got us where we are. The first time out is tough and I thought he answered the bell. As soon as the going got a little bit sticky, he got better. When I first went out there, he was disappointed in himself. But that beaming smile came back at the end." Feliz got the first out by getting Ben Zobrist to line out to Jeff Francoeur in right field. Then he came back to strike out Reid Brignac and pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to end the game. "He believes in himself and knows the adjustments he has to make," third baseman Michael Young said. "He stepped off the mound, took a couple of deep breaths and then got after it. That's what Neftali does for us." Said manager Ron Washington, "I just think it was anxiety, it was being overhyped, but he settled down. That was his first time out there, too. He's a young kid. He took over the closing role, and now he's closing a ballgame in a playoff situation. He finally settled down and did what we needed him to do to get us three outs. Next time he takes the ball, he'll probably be better."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.