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K-Rod makes history, up for DHL honor

K-Rod up for DHL Award in 2008

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It's been quite a year for closer Francisco Rodriguez.

First, it was a change in Spring Training to his delivery to reduce the violence on his arm and lower body. Next, it was the development of his devastating changeup.

Then as a result of those changes and a multitude of opportunities, came his record-breaking 58th save on Sept. 13 to break Bobby Thigpen's record of 57 saves set in 1990 with the Chicago White Sox.

And now for his efforts, Rodriguez has been named a finalist for this year's DHL Presents the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year Award.

Everyone who votes will be entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win a two-day, one-night trip for two to Game 4 of this year's World Series. The prize will include round-trip airfare, if needed, to the National League city of the Fall Classic, as well as accommodations and two tickets to the game.

To create the ballot, the editorial staff at MLB.com compiled a list of 15 relievers who have had outstanding regular seasons. The 10 finalists then were chosen from the list by a special Major League Baseball "yellow-ribbon" panel.

Rodriguez was an easy selection as the right-hander has put together one of the best, if not the best, season by a closer in the history of the game. He's the first pitcher to reach the 60-save plateau and has amazingly gotten better as the season has gone on. His ERA is a microscopic 0.56 since Aug. 16, and he has 15 saves in that span to lower his season ERA to 2.31.

It's enough to impress Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who batted against and caught his fair share of elite closers in his 13-year career as a catcher with the Dodgers.

"He's fearless," Scioscia said of K-Rod. "I've been around a lot of good closers, but Frankie turns the page better than anyone I've seen. He's been as consistent as any pitcher I've seen. This has really been a magical year for Frankie, but he's been great his whole career."

Much of Rodriguez's success this season has come from his ability to adapt, as his tweaked delivery and his new-look changeup that has become an out pitch used in big-time situations.

"Now Frankie has three pitches for hitters to worry about, not two," catcher Mike Napoli said.

It's been quite a ride for the 26-year-old, who has come a long way since growing up in the tough streets of Venezuela. That's why his record-breaking season has meant so much to him and to his native country.

"A lot of people back home have been rooting for me to break the record," Rodriguez said. "It's very important for my people, my country, to get that record."

Rodriguez has continued to shatter the record, and sits at 61 saves as of Wednesday. It's been an effort that fellow Venezuelan Juan Rivera is proud to have witnessed.

"First of all, Frankie, since the beginning of the year, you can tell the focus in his eyes," Rivera said through a translator after Rodriguez broke the record. "I'm very proud of him as a Venezuelan. I'm very happy for him as a teammate, because as a team, we know the impact he's had closing out games."

It's had quite an impact on the team as the Angels clinched the division faster than any team in American League West history, setting themselves up for a chance to be the first team since 1999 to win a division by 20 games.

That's why Rodriguez has one more goal left that has nothing to do with individual accolades.

"Now, my next target is just trying to win a championship," Rodriguez said after breaking the saves record.

Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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