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It was relief time for Weaver

October 23, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

The air was thick with tension, with suspense, with a season on the line.

Mom could not bear to watch.

Gail Weaver clasped her hands in front of her face. Her youngest son had the fate of the Angels in his hands.

Jered Weaver stood atop the mound, staring down at the New York Yankees. This was no time for a rookie, not with the season one more bad inning from expiration.

This was the time for the best available pitcher. He was a starter? Not tonight.

Not now, not in the eighth inning, not with a one-run lead. This was Weaver's time.

Ball one to Melky Cabrera. Strike one, looking. Strike two, foul. Strike three, swinging. The Yankees would not get the leadoff man on base.

Weaver had one career relief appearance, against the Boston Red Sox in last year's playoffs, also with the season on the line. He pitched the final two innings of an elimination game, for the victory.

But he was in the bullpen all along last October. This October, he is a starter. In this series, he started Game 3. He is scheduled to start Game 7.

The Angels had to win Game 5, or go home. They sent Weaver to the bullpen, just in case, but without subjecting him to the hazing ritual to which the newest reliever usually is subjected.

"No pink backpack for me," he said.

No work, either, or so you figured when ace John Lackey took a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning. Next thing you knew, the Yankees scored six in the top of the inning to take the lead, and the Angels scored three in the bottom of the inning to take back the lead.

Weaver time, with plenty of time to warm up.

"It was a 45-minute inning," he said. "It was definitely enough time to get loose."

The seventh inning ended, the bullpen gate opened, and Weaver jogged toward the mound. Brian Fuentes, the Angels' closer, confessed to a bit of anxiety.

"I still get goose bumps when I come out of the 'pen, when the crowd cheers and the music gets going," Fuentes said. "As a starter, you walk in when the anthem just gets over, and you don't hear too much.

"I'm so happy for him. He lived for that moment. His stuff was unbelievable."

Strike one, looking, to Jorge Posada. Ground ball, back to Weaver, two out.

This was not the easiest assignment for Weaver, not at first pitch.

"The nerves started to kick in," he said. "Once you get out there, it's time to locate and throw everything for strikes."

He did. He threw 11 pitches, eight for strikes, to a team that is more than happy to wait you out. He threw hard too, harder than normal.

"He was pretty fired up," Lackey said. "It's kind of fun for starters. We don't get to cut it loose very often. When you're out there for one inning, you find a little more velocity than normal."

Strike one, looking, to Derek Jeter. Strike two, foul.

The fans stood with two strikes, all of them, all night long. That's a Yankee Stadium thing, a Fenway Park thing, not an Angel Stadium thing, not until the Angels were on the brink of elimination.

"You usually only see that on the East Coast," Weaver said. "Our fans knew the game was huge. It's nice to see that out of them. We need them, just as much as they need us to win."

Two strikes, on Jeter? Weaver's mom stood up too, still clasping her hands in front of her face, a little lower this time, just enough to peek at the field.

Ball one. Ball two. Swing and a miss, strike three!

Gail Weaver thrust both arms toward the sky. Jered Weaver slammed his fist into his glove.

Three outs to go. Mike Scioscia could have, maybe even should have, sent Weaver back for the ninth. He still was the best pitcher available.

With more than a one-run lead, Scioscia said he might have. He went with Fuentes, who loaded the bases but escaped with the save.

On to New York, on with the season. Weaver rescued Lackey in Game 5. Lackey would love to repay the favor in Game 7, from the bullpen.

"I'll be there," Lackey said. "I guarantee you that."

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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