Closers struggle mightily in Division Series

closClosers struggle mightily

In the first two years of Major League Baseball's Division Series round -- 1995-96 -- there were a combined 16 blown saves. That included a record nine in 1995, and another seven the following year.

Rick Aguilera, Norm Charlton, Julian Tavarez, Alejandro Pena, Steve Reed, Jeff Russell, Mike Henneman, Roger Pavlik, Rick Honeycutt and Todd Worrell were just some of the names with the dreaded "BS" beside them in the box score in the early days of protecting Division Series game leads.

The 2009 Division Series is in the books now, and it goes in right behind those first two years in terms of closer futility. The first round of this postseason has been defined at least in part by high-profile blown saves in the ninth inning or later, touching all four series. There were six total, and that ranks in a tie for third along with the 2003 DS round.

Closing cere-moany
The Division Series round began in 1995, and it immediately proved to be a challenging time for closers. There were nine blown saves in that first round. The six blown saves in 2009 are tied for third in DS history:
Year Blown saves
1995 9
1996 7
2009 6
2003 6
2002 5

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

In order, there was Ryan Franklin's blown save for the Cardinals against the Dodgers, Joe Nathan's blown save for the Twins against Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees, Jonathan Papelbon's blown save for the Red Sox that allowed the Angels to clinch, Phillies reliever Ryan Madson in the seventh inning of Game 3 and the eighth inning of Game 4, and Huston Street's blown save for the Rockies in Philadelphia's clincher on Monday night.

The relievers included three of this season's top nine saves leaders, and four of the top 12. Here is a closer look at the four crucial blown saves that proved costly:

Street allows three runs in ninth after Colorado's rally
Street came to Colorado in an offseason deal involving Matt Holliday, and that looks almost ironic now based on what happened to both of those guys this past week. Street converted all but two of his 37 save chances during the regular season, yet he gave up three runs in the ninth Monday night as the Phillies won Game 4, 5-4, to punch their ticket to the NLCS.

Street gave up three hits and a walk, and never got the final out he needed to send the series back to Philadelphia for a deciding Game 5. Ryan Howard's two-run, two-out double tied the score at 4. Jayson Werth drove Howard home with the go-ahead run.

And just to top off the nuttiness of it all, Brad Lidge, who was so perfect last season and so vulnerable this season (Major League-high 11 blown saves), came in during the ninth to get the clinching save. Many had been comparing Street's 2009 season with that of Lidge's 2008 efforts. Lidge, in fact, converted back-to-back save opportunities in the NLDS.

"What we've seen of Huston, he's been so good and so aggressive all year long," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said before Game 4. "When he gets to two strikes and commits to a pitch, he makes the pitch. But he hasn't been doing that as well the last couple of times when he's been out there."

Nathan's blown save shocks Twins
Only the Angels' Brian Fuentes had more saves this season than Nathan (47), who set a Twins single-season record and converted his final 12 chances. Nathan had just been named co-recipient of the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, along with Yankees great Mariano Rivera.

But in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees, one inning after his team had broken a tie with a two-run rally, Nathan gave up a leadoff single to Mark Teixeira in the top of the ninth and then a game-tying homer to Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees went on to win on Teixeira's walk-off jack in the 11th.

The blown save was crucial, because the Twins would have escaped New York with a split and returned to their Dome-field advantage without their backs to the wall. Instead, Twins went back 0-2 and the Yankees clinched in the Metrodome sendoff.

"It's obviously a tough one," Nathan said. "I can't fall behind a hitter like Alex. I can't fall behind him 3-1 and expect to get away with a pitch there. He took a good swing on the 3-1 pitch and did what he's supposed to do with it."

"Time to bounce back"
Franklin blogged during his team's NLDS against the Dodgers, and he just happened to be posting about one of the most ignominious moments in club history.

"I just felt like I was right where I was supposed to be, and everything was going like it should," Franklin wrote. "I got Manny Ramirez out, did what I wanted to. But something like what happened with James Loney, it happens. I'll take a ball hit at Matt Holliday any time. He's going to do whatever he can."

The ball Loney hit to Holliday, of course, never found its way into the left fielder's glove. Holliday would say later that he lost it late in the lights. Instead of leaving Dodger Stadium with a split, Franklin had to remain on the mound. There he failed to take care of business, as Casey Blake walked, Ronnie Belliard tying the score by singling on "a decent pitch" -- and then Mark Loretta muscled an inside pitch into the outfield grass to win it for the Dodgers.

Teammates don't pin loss on Papelbon
Papelbon had not allowed a run in 26 career innings of postseason relief. He recorded the final out of the eighth Sunday at home against the Angels, and then came back out to protect a 6-4 lead in the ninth. It would have gotten Boston back into the series, but there is nothing automatic in baseball.

Papelbon got the first two quick outs and had Erick Aybar down 0-2 in the count. People were leaning toward the exits. Then Aybar singled. Chone Figgins walked. Bobby Abreu drilled an RBI double to left. Following an intentional walk to Torii Hunter that loaded the bases, Vladimir Guerrero put the Halos on top with a ringing two-run single to center field. The Angels won, 7-6, and Papelbon and the fans had to watch the Angels celebrate at Fenway Park.

"You do it all season, and you've done it time and time again previously in the postseason, but I just wasn't able to come out ahead this time," said Papelbon, who suffered badly from predictability in that last inning, throwing 25 pitches (excluding the intentional walk) and a stubborn 24 of them being four-seamers all of similar speeds and movement. "These types of moments stick with you more than the types of moments when you preserve those wins, because they tend to sink a little bit deeper."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Alex Cushing contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.