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10/01/07 10:00 AM ET

K-Rod up for DHL Delivery Man honors

Closer still going strong; racks up third straight 40-save year

The 2007 All-Star Game was on the line in San Francisco -- two outs, bases loaded in the top of the ninth, one-run lead for the American League -- and the ball was in Francisco Rodriguez's right hand.

Fellow AL All-Star John Lackey couldn't have been any more confident.

"Nah, I wasn't worried," Lackey said after K-Rod preserved a 5-4 victory, assuring the AL champion of home-field advantage in the 2007 World Series. "I've seen him do it too many times. Frankie is fearless. Nothing bothers him."

When he retired the Phillies' Aaron Rowand on a fly ball for the final out, Rodriguez was able to exhale, his first All-Star Game save added to his list of achievements.

"It was a great feeling -- my first save in an All-Star Game," K-Rod said. "Hopefully, it's not the last one."

The AL's saves king in 2005 and 2006, Rodriguez finished the season with 40 saves, the third consecutive season he reached the mark.

There's nobody manager Mike Scioscia would rather have facing down hitters in the ninth with a lead than the man from Venezuela with the golden arm. Sciosica feels he's the right man for the annual "DHL Presents the Major League Delivery Man of the Year Award."

The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award" winner is selected by a special Major League Baseball "yellow-ribbon" panel that includes Mike Bauman, national columnist for MLB.com; Rich "Goose" Gossage, the nine-time All-Star pitcher; Darryl Hamilton, former Major League outfielder and a member of the MLB on-field operations staff; Jerome Holtzman, the official MLB historian and a member of the writer's wing of the Hall of Fame; and Bob Watson, vice president, on-field operations, Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball fans have the opportunity to determine which relief pitcher had the best overall season and deserves the third annual "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award."

A list of finalists is selected based on statistical qualifiers, and fans will be able to vote for the winner online at MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball. The "DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award" will be presented during the Major League Baseball postseason.

Joining Rodriguez as finalists are J.J. Putz (Mariners), Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Joe Nathan (Twins), Jason Isringhausen (Cardinals), Francisco Cordero (Brewers), Jose Valverde (Diamondbacks), Takashi Saito (Dodgers), Bobby Jenks (White Sox) and Trevor Hoffman (Padres).

Appearing in 64 games covering 67 1/3 innings, Rodriguez fashioned a 2.81 ERA while going 5-2 with those 40 saves. He had 90 strikeouts against 34 walks while yielding 50 hits.

"Frankie has absorbed a couple of tough outings," Scioscia said, "but overall, he's been as good as any closer in the game.

"For three months, he was as locked in as any closer could be. Hopefully, he's getting back into that form."

Rodriguez's 132 saves dating back to the start of the 2005 season are the most in the Majors. His 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings represents the third-best ratio in history.

"He came up right out of the gate and wasn't scared," Lackey said, referring to the 2002 postseason when both were rookie contributors to the Angels' dramatic and improbable run to a World Series championship. "I knew who he was. I'd played with him in the Minor Leagues. He always had confidence. The bigger the game, the more his competitiveness comes out."

Asked to identify the origin of that ability to thrive in such a demanding position, Rodriguez pauses in thought before returning in his mind to Caracas, Venezuela, where the streets were mean and swallowed up kids like him by the hundreds.

"My background, I guess that's where it comes from," K-Rod said. "The places I grew up, it was difficult. I guess it was good and bad at the same time. I grew up in a tough neighborhood. The stronger survive -- that's how I see it.

"I've been on the streets since I was 9 years old, working. Once I cross that line, take that mound, I'm in charge. The hitters are going to hit the pitch I want them to hit. That's the mentality I have on the mound. That's how I feel. This is my house, and no one else's."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.