Putz marvels at K-Rod's dominance
Mariners hurler watches as fellow closer ties saves record
ANAHEIM -- At some point during the next three games, the Mariners could become part of a Major League record, and Seattle closer J.J. Putz will quietly tip his cap to the record-breaker.Angels right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, aka K-Rod, on Thursday night tied the Major League record for most saves in a single season with his 57th, a record held since 1990 by right-hander Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox. "What K-Rod has done this season is pretty remarkable," Putz said. "He's on a very good team that has won a lot of ballgames, so he's had a lot of opportunities. But what he's done is impressive." The record has been challenged a couple of times since, by Dodgers right-hander Eric Gagne in 2003 when he was 55-for-55 in saves situations, and Braves right-hander John Smoltz, 55-for-59 the previous season. "I had 40 [saves] last year," Putz said, "and that seemed like a lot. K-Rod blew by me and has 19 more than anyone in the league this year." If not for the Mariners, among others, Rodriguez already would have the record by himself. One of K-Rod's six blown saves occurred against the Mariners on Aug. 13, when Seattle rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to erase a three-run deficit, eventually winning the game in the 12th inning on Wladimir Balentien's three-run home run. The ninth-inning rally featured Jeremy Reed's two-run double and ensuing game-tying single by Raul Ibanez. Rodriguez was so upset with what happened that he gave the plate umpire an earful on his way to the third-base dugout and was ejected. Coming back against Rodriguez like that was a rare thing for the Mariners. He had converted 20 consecutive save chances against Seattle before that night at Angel Stadium. K-Rod also has a "BS" behind his name in five other boxscores this season, against the White Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Mets and Indians. "Another unbelievable part of this whole thing is he's not blowing people away with 95-mph fastballs," Putz said. "He's added a changeup this year, his velocity is down, but I think hitters are having a harder time against him.
"In the past, he had a fastball and slider, and you could eliminate one pitch and sit on the other. Now, he has three pitches and you can't sit on anything. And he still has that violent motion."Somehow, and don't ask the twice-injured Putz this season just how, K-Rod has managed to stay healthy even with his arms and legs going in all kinds of directions at the same time. "Whatever it is, it's working," Putz said, shaking his head. But the Mariners' closer is quick to point out that Rodriguez has received an abundance of support from a strong cast of teammates in the bullpen. "Some of the credit for K-Rod's success is guys like Jose Arredondo [1.38 ERA], Scot Shields [2.57 ERA] and Darren Oliver [2.97 ERA]," Putz said. "Without those guys having the years they're having, [Rodriguez] wouldn't have as many saves as he does." Shields leads the Angels with 28 "holds," Arredondo has 15 and Oliver 11. As good as K-Rod has been this season, and he's considered an American League Most Valuable Player candidate, Putz still believes Yankees right-hander Mariano Rivera is the top closer in the AL. "Mariano is still dominant with one pitch [cutter]," J.J. said. "Everyone knows what's coming and they still can't hit it."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.