COMMENTARY | In a season riddled by injuries, the New York Yankees' bullpen has been the anchor of the team, and health has not been a concern.
That is until they lost three of four games to the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox, including back-to-back gut-wrenching losses in the first two games of the series in the Bronx.
The Yankees' bullpen imploded, coughing up leads in two very different ways the first two games of the series and allowing runs in the final two games as well. After an incredible August, Yankees relievers allowed 20 runs on 31 hits and nine walks in the series, covering 17 2/3 innings.
To make matters worse, it was revealed after Friday's 12-8 loss that setup man David Robertson has right-shoulder soreness and is out indefinitely. Robertson actually showed signs of fatigue in the Yankees' last victory against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 4.
Robertson has had a great season (4-1, 1.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 70 Ks in 58 1/3 IP), but he looked lost trying to hold a 6-2 lead in the eighth inning that night. Robertson has a tendency to make things interesting, earning the nickname Houdini from fans. On that night, there was no magic act. His performance (1/3 IP, 2 ER, 3H & 1 BB) forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to bring in iconic closer Mariano Rivera.
Rivera, who will retire at season's end, notched his first four-out save since July 24, 2011, preserving the 6-5 Yankees win. Unfortunately, there seemed to have been a ripple effect from that game.
The very next night, as the Red Sox came to town, the Yankees found themselves in a hole. But their revived offense pushed across six runs in the seventh inning to take an 8-7 lead.
Into the game came Robertson, and he worked an impressive 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. Maybe everything was OK and Wednesday was just a blip in a long season of pressure appearances. But Rivera could not hold the lead in the ninth. Was that extra out the preceding night too much for the 43-year-old icon? Rivera indicated that was not the case in the clubhouse after the game, according to a report from MLB.com.
"It's part of the game," Rivera said softly. "Sometimes you hit the ball hard right at someone, sometimes it's a broken bat. It was a tough one. We just have to forget about it and come in tomorrow."
No matter the reason, the Yankees entered Friday's game knowing neither Robertson nor Rivera was going to be available. That put extra pressure on starter Andy Pettitte and the Yankees' offense. But both responded to the challenge. Pettitte tossed six innings of three-run ball and the suddenly potent offense pushed across eight runs.
With a five-run lead in the seventh, Girardi called on recently demoted starter Phil Hughes to get some outs. Without surprise, Hughes came undone, allowing a run on three hits and a walk and getting only one out. With the bases loaded, Girardi summoned southpaw Boone Logan to the mound with Boston's left-handed hitting DH David Ortiz up next. Logan struck out Ortiz looking for the second out of the inning. Then Girardi, with few options he trusted in the bullpen, stuck with Logan for right-handed masher Mike Napoli. Napoli made the Yankees pay, blasting a grand slam to tie the game 8-8. Five-run lead gone.
Preston Claiborne, who was recently recalled and has been mostly reliable during his time with the team, coughed up a two-run homer to Shane Victorino in the eighth inning and a useless Joba Chamberlain walked in an inherited runner and permitted a run-scoring single that allowed the game to get out of hand.
Losing three out of four games hurt the Yankees once again in the standings as they failed to gain ground on the floundering Tampa Bay Rays, who lost three out of four to the Seattle Mariners. The Bombers also fell behind the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians in the race for the second wild-card spot over the weekend.
Adding to the laundry list of injured relievers, Logan received a cortisone shot Saturday after he complained of elbow discomfort and is unavailable for at least the next few days. Righty Shawn Kelley (67 Ks in 51 IP), who had been sidelined since Sept. 1 with inflammation in his triceps, had a scoreless appearance in Sunday's victory.
The bullpen is so beat up and short-handed that Girardi called upon Rivera to make a 6-out save Sunday afternoon. Rivera couldn't do it, as he allowed a game-tying home run to Will Middlebrooks with no outs in the ninth. Rivera recuperated, getting the final three outs of the inning and the Yankees prevailed on a walkoff wild pitch, winning 4-3 to salvage the final game of the series. Rivera, who now has seven blown saves this season, tossed 35 pitches yesterday, calling into question his availability or effectiveness for their next series, beginning Sept. 9 against the Orioles in Baltimore.
The demise of the bullpen has been as sharp as it has been sudden. The Yankees are finally getting good starting pitching on most nights (David Huff's nine-run disaster Saturday removed) and they are scoring runs in bunches (25 runs in the first three games of the series). But the bullpen, which has been fabulous for much of the season, has shown signs of cracking in terms of performance and health at the worst time.
The Yankees can't afford to lose games in which they've come from behind in the late innings or those in which they hold large leads. The Yankees, with a weary Rivera and likely without Robertson and Logan over the next few days, will need the rotation to buckle down and the offense to continue to thrive.
Someone will have to step up in the bullpen, but there are no simple choices for Girardi to get to Rivera. It seems that no lead is safe for the Yankees these days.
Chris Carelli is a freelance baseball writer/editor. He is a New York Yankees contributor published on Yahoo Sports and has previously written for Call to the Pen, Redbird Rants, Yanks Go Yard and Big Leagues Magazine. Chris currently covers MLB for Sportsideo where he is also the Director of Content Strategy. For more baseball commentary you can follow Chris on Twitter.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Yankees
- Mariano Rivera
- David Robertson
- Boston Red Sox
- Joe Girardi