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Jenks' star rises from ashes

Jenks' star rises from ashes

BOSTON -- There are dreams. There are wild fantasies.

And somewhere past that extreme point lies the experience Bobby Jenks has lived during the course of the 2005 season. Claimed off waivers from the Angels on Dec. 17, 2004, Jenks entered Spring Training as a project the White Sox hoped would pan out once his surgically repaired right elbow had sufficient time to heal.

Jenks was the player in the White Sox clubhouse at Tucson Electric Park who people knew of, but nobody knew too much about.

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Now, nine months later, Jenks is closing out games for the White Sox in the American League Division Series, against arguably the best offensive lineup in baseball. In the process, he's earning respect from the opposing hitters who Jenks has been knocking down.

"That's the first time I've faced Bobby Jenks, and the guy is pretty amazing," said Boston leadoff man Johnny Damon, after Jenks pitched the final two innings Wednesday in the White Sox 5-4 victory, giving the South Siders a 2-0 lead in the ALDS with Game 3 coming Friday evening at Fenway Park.

"I think he throws harder than what he actually registers at," Damon added. "His ball cuts on you when it's inside. He's got a real live fastball. I couldn't catch up to it [Wednesday]."

The speed gun on Jenks has produced numbers anywhere from 97-102 mph when the big right-hander fires his fastball, with the top number showing up on two pitches during a series at Safeco Field in Seattle. It would be easy for Jenks to simply rare back and try to blaze pitches by the opposition in every situation.

But the 24-year-old from Mission Hills, Calif., has become a true pitcher during the 33 games covering his rookie season. He also throws offspeed pitches in the 85-86 mph range, not to mention a solid changeup. Jenks even has been working back toward past appearances against opposing hitters in order to gain the upper hand.

When Jenks first faced Manny Ramirez earlier this season, the Red Sox slugger struck out looking on a curve. On Wednesday night, after jumping ahead of Ramirez leading off the eighth, Jenks stayed with the fastball.

Ramirez ripped a frozen rope to center, hauled in by Aaron Rowand. Sometimes it pays to be good and a little lucky.

"He hit the [heck] out of a fastball," Jenks said with a smile. "Maybe next time I'll take a different approach."

"Bobby is very clutch for us, a big-time pitcher," added White Sox third baseman Joe Crede. "He's also a smart pitcher. He doesn't try to blow everyone away. He throws his curve and changeup, and throws them well."

Jenks became the closer when Dustin Hermanson's back prevented him from performing on a daily basis. Truth be told, Jenks is more of the prototypical late-inning hurler, with the heat on his fastball and variance on his offspeed offerings.

The right-hander also is a throwback to the old closers, such as Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Rich "Goose" Gossage, when two or three innings of work was the norm not the exception. As Paul Konerko stated during Wednesday's postgame, Jenks picked up a "real man save" with his impressive work against the Red Sox.

That extra inning or extra hitter in the eighth causes no concern for Jenks, who has made nine appearances covering at least two innings and two covering three innings in 2005. Jenks also was a starting pitcher for five years in the Angels system, but has taken to the closer's role in his first year on the job.

"It's uncommon for a 24-year old to come up from Double-A and handle any role, never mind picking up the three or six biggest outs of the game," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Jenks, who started the year at Birmingham.

"I'm very durable and I can handle it, back-to-back days, even of two innings, if it helps the team," Jenks added. "I knew once I was healthy and got back into good pitching shape, I would be here someday."

His 6-foot-3, 270-pound frame, coupled with the big fastball and his even bigger success, has earned Jenks cult-hero status among the White Sox faithful. Manager Ozzie Guillen has even taken to signaling for Jenks from the bullpen by holding both hands out in front of him in a circle, signifying Jenks' girth.

There were no major problems with nerves or jitters when Jenks entered Wednesday to protect the one-run lead. He was more unsettled when the White Sox went ahead on Tadahito Iguchi's home run, and he realized a playoff debut was on his horizon.

Edgar Renteria's groundout to Juan Uribe, stranding Tony Graffanino on second, was just another spectacular moment in his improbable rise to greatness. The fans chanted his name in unison as he recorded the final out. His teammates basically did the same for the White Sox bullpen anchor.

"I wouldn't have believed it could happen this year," said Jenks, who struck out 50 in 39 1/3 innings during the regular season. "Getting this sort of opportunity in my first year in the big leagues is very special."

"You can't say enough about him," added White Sox designated hitter Carl Everett of the kid closer. "The kid has come from a lot of stuff. I don't want to say he's a monster, but he has no quit in him. I love what he's doing.

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

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