Jenks ties AL record, is fourth all-time
Closer retires 38th consecutive hitter, eyes Barr's mark
CHICAGO -- If Bobby Jenks' consecutive batters retired streak has been a prime topic in the White Sox clubhouse of late, the news apparently hasn't quite made its way to rookie third baseman Josh Fields.
"I did not know. I had no idea," said Fields with a smile, after the White Sox defeated the Mariners on Friday night and Jenks picked up his 33rd save.
"Does [Jenks] know?" Fields added. "Don't tell him."
Jenks, 26, knows all-too-well about his streak of perfection, having not spoken about it since the final game of a three-game series in New York last week. At that point, Jenks had retired 26 straight hitters for the near-equivalent of a perfect game over nine appearances.
His strikeout and two ground outs recorded in the ninth inning against Seattle on Friday raised that unbelievable ledger for Jenks to 38 straight, tying the American League record set by David Wells from May 12-23, 1998 with the Yankees. Jenks also stands even with Pittsburgh's Harvey Haddix for the fourth-longest streak of domination in baseball history, trailing only Jim Barr's Major League mark of 41 (1972 with the Giants), Tom Browning at 40 (1988 with the Reds) and Randy Johnson at 39 (2004 with the Diamondbacks).
The closer's feelings on such a great run, which has lowered his ERA to 2.98, won't be known until after this streak has come to a close. Jenks declined comment through a White Sox spokesman on Friday, but his teammates and manager Ozzie Guillen did not follow such a code of silence.
"That's pretty amazing, really unbelievable," said White Sox starter Javier Vazquez, who improved to 10-6 with Jenks' assistance on Friday. "It's tough to do, especially in a situation where he's coming in trying to retire three up and three down. To do it for 30-something batters, that's really amazing."
"You can tell in his face how focused he is," Fields added. "We have a good chance of winning every single time [that] Bobby is on the field."
The streak almost came to an end with Jenks' first batter on Friday, as he fell behind with three straight balls thrown to Jose Lopez. The Mariners second baseman then took two called strikes before swinging through the third one and drawing a rousing reaction from the crowd at U.S. Cellular Field.
Yuniesky Betancourt followed with a slow roller in between Fields and shortstop Juan Uribe, which Uribe handled cleanly and fired to first baseman Paul Konerko for the second out. Ichiro became the only obstacle left for Jenks and matching the American League record.
Although Jenks has answered with a wry smile and silence when asked about the streak or what he's changed to basically annihilate opposing hitters, the hard-throwing right-hander did tell MLB.com last week how he has increased his late-season conditioning routine in order to avoid the fatigue that plagued him during the final month of 2006. The changes certainly seem to be working.
In a season when the White Sox bullpen has been beset with results ranging from disastrous to inconsistent, Jenks has been the sole driving force from start to finish. But Jenks now finds himself in an elite closing stratosphere, the kind of dominance reserved for the game's best late-inning men such as Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne in his prime.
"When you are a closer, you either throw a lot of strikes or not that many because you are a powerful guy," Guillen said. "Bobby is a mix between the power and the strikes. That's why I think it makes him so good.
"It's a hard job to retire that many people. But he has so many pitches that if Bobby throws a strike, he can be really good."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.