ARLINGTON, Texas — It would be difficult to match the postseason brilliance of the back of the Angel bullpen in 2002, when closer Troy Percival and setup men Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly combined to go 6-2 with a 2.85 earned-run average, seven saves and 51 strikeouts in 41 innings to help the Angels win their first World Series championship.
But with Rodriguez now closing, Scot Shields regaining his command in an eighth-inning role, Kelvim Escobar added to the late-game mix and Donnelly providing depth and an ability to retire left-handed hitters, the Angels like the way their bullpen sets up for the playoffs.
"The bullpen has pitched well the last two weeks," pitching coach Bud Black said. "Having six days off [after clinching the American League West title Tuesday] to sort of exhale, to get guys on the mound when they need to, has helped."
The Angel bullpen, a strength in the first half, staggered through August, converting six of 11 saves and compiling a 4.52 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. But Angel relievers converted 13 of 14 save opportunities and compiled a 3.06 ERA in 85 1/3 September innings.
The key has been the seamless integration of Escobar, the starter who returned from elbow surgery in early September. Escobar could see that the bullpen needed him much more desperately than the rotation and unselfishly agreed to pitch in relief.
In nine relief appearances, Escobar, a former Toronto closer who has the ability to throw three innings in a game, is 1-0 with one save and a 1.89 ERA. The right-hander has contributed to eight Angel victories in his nine games.
"He's really been a huge reason our bullpen has stabilized," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's given Shields, Donnelly and Frankie a chance to get back on track. That depth is going to be good for us in the postseason."
Chone Figgins' fifth-inning triple Saturday night gave the Angel leadoff batter 185 hits, establishing a club record for a switch-hitter. Johnny Ray held the previous mark of 184, set in 1988.
Figgins also became only the second Angel to steal 60 bases in a season when he stole second in the first inning Saturday. Mickey Rivers holds the team record of 70, set in 1975.
Figgins took the AL stolen-base lead over Chicago White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik. Figgins also ranks sixth in the league with 111 runs.
Angel slugger Vladimir Guerrero was in the original lineup Saturday night, but when told he would get today's season finale off, Guerrero asked Scioscia if he could sit out Saturday night and play Sunday, so he wouldn't have two days off before the first game of the division series. Scioscia obliged, and Juan Rivera started in right Saturday night.