MIAMI (AP) -Three outs left and in comes Kevin Gregg, who steps on the mound and gives the batter a menacing stare behind his reflective shades.
Game over.
That's how the ninth inning has played out this season for the Florida Marlins' closer, who has taken the ball 14 times in save situations and converted every one. Gregg had just four saves in his first 11 professional seasons.
``I always knew I could close,'' Gregg said. ``I think I have the perfect game and the perfect mentality for it.''
He spent the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, where he pitched in 125 games, made eight starts and had a 4.31 ERA. No matter what success he achieved, he knew Scott Shields would pitch the eighth and Frankie Rodriguez the ninth.
``I was just kind of spot starting,'' Gregg said. ``I wasn't really sure what they wanted me to do. I just did a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It was hard to get in any kind of rhythm.''
The Marlins acquired him for reliever Chris Resop last November. During spring training, Gregg didn't feel he was in the running for the vacant closer's job.
When newcomer Jorge Julio struggled in the role early this season, the Marlins tried Henry Owens, but he was sidelined in early May by a shoulder injury. That created the opportunity Gregg needed.
Pitching regularly has allowed him to stay sharp. Gregg has already pitched more games than all of last year, and he has eased the burden on Florida's injury-plagued rotation.
``He's shortening games,'' manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ``It's definitely a luxury.''
Gregg's outings haven't all been without bumps. He needed a diving catch from Brett Carroll in center field to avoid blowing a save for the first time Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox. He has walked 19 in 42 2-3 innings.
``I don't like to make things interesting,'' Gregg said. ``But that's what it has been.''
About two years ago, Gregg began wearing sunglasses on the mound, even at night. The shades have become his signature - and a key to his success, he said. Gregg wears them at night to reduce the glare from stadium lights, he said.
The shades also create an intimidating look for opposing batters.
``It works for me, and apparently something's not working for them, because I'm getting guys out,'' he said.
At 6-foot-6, Gregg has a fastball that reaches 95 mph and a split-finger pitch that keeps them guessing. Most of the time it's just the fastball, he said, and the result has been an ERA of 2.74.
With Gregg taking care of the ninth, the rest of the Marlins relievers have defined their roles - recently acquired Armando Benitez pitches the eighth, Matt Lindstrom the seventh and left-handers when matchups dictate.
``Our bullpen saved our butts the first half of the season,'' Gonzalez said. ``And Gregg has been a big part of that.''
Gregg is taking aim at the Marlins' record for consecutive saves, set by Todd Jones with 27 in 2005.
Despite Gregg's success, Gonzalez said he never feels like the game is over when his team takes a lead into the ninth.
``I feel comfortable that we've got a guy that has done it and been successful,'' Gonzalez said. ``As a manager, though, it wouldn't matter if you've got Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera coming in, it's never game over.''
But so far this season, when Gregg enters the game with a lead, it has been just that.
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