Bullpen Woes Jeopardizing Pennant Push
Bob Toth | On 17, Feb 2016
August 29, 1948
While in the thick of the pennant race in the American League over the last few weeks, the Cleveland Indians have begun to make it a frustrating habit to be charitable to some of the league’s worst teams.
In six recent games against the lowly White Sox and Senators, the Indians went 2-4.
What may be even more discouraging are the wins lost against the top teams in the American League because the relief corps is failing to provide any relief. Instead of gaining ground in the standings and saving close wins, the team has been repeatedly dealt devastating losses in potentially winnable ball games.
On Saturday, the Indians took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth in New York against the Yankees. Sam Zoldak, in line for the win, had given the Indians eight strong innings and allowed just one run on six hits. Gene Bearden came on in relief to seal the win, but was unable to retire either of the batters he faced, hitting Joe DiMaggio with a pitch before walking Yogi Berra. Ed Klieman entered the game for Bearden and allowed a sacrifice bunt before intentionally walking Phil Rizzuto and then unintentionally walking in the tying run on a walk to pinch-hitter Charlie Keller. The next batter, Cliff Mapes, pinch-hitting for the pitcher, grounded out to second, with Berra scoring the winning run with the Indians unable to turn the double play.
Friday, in the second game of the doubleheader in a 4-1 game, Russ Christopher entered as the team’s third pitcher of the night in the sixth. Instead of keeping the game close, the fireman fueled the fire, allowing three runs to score to blow the game wide open.
After tying the score at 3-3 in the top of the eighth on Thursday, starter Bearden allowed a two-out, three-run home run to Boston’s Johnny Pesky to make it a 6-3 game. After a pair of singles, he was lifted for Christopher, who allowed both inherited base runners to score on a triple by Birdie Tebbetts, putting the score further out of reach.
Another crushing defeat occurred just two days prior, again versus Boston. With a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the seventh, the bullpen allowed a run. After getting the run back in the top of the eighth, they allowed two more in the bottom of the frame to make it a 6-6 tie. The Indians scored two in the top of the ninth to reclaim an 8-6 lead, but Klieman allowed a leadoff double to Dom DiMaggio and a single to Pesky before being lifted for Bearden, who retired Ted Williams on a sacrifice fly for the first out before being lifted himself for Christopher, who gave up the game-winning two-run walk-off home run to shortstop Vern Stephens to end it.
What can the Indians do to help stabilize the bullpen?
They cannot expect the starting rotation to continue to give complete game efforts night in and night out.
Bob Lemon is in rapid pursuit of the team’s all-time record for complete game shutouts in a season. His arm is one that the Indians need to keep healthy and primed for the pennant push.
Both Bob Feller and Bearden have supplemented the relievers out of the bullpen, with mixed results.
The existing relievers appear tired and overworked. Two regulars, Christopher and Klieman, have been involved in key plays late in games that have been detrimental to the outcome for the Indians.
One option may be to leave Satchel Paige in a relief role.
Paige has been a force for Lou Boudreau’s Indians regardless of what role the Cleveland manager has used him in. While Paige is scheduled to start on Monday night against Washington, Boudreau may need to reconsider his role for the team moving forward.
The ageless wonder pitched his first eight games strictly in relief for Cleveland, striking out ten batters in 18 innings of work while earning a 1-1 record. Batters hit .219 off of him and he posted a 2.00 ERA.
After making a start at the beginning of August against Washington, Paige has floated between a starting and relief role. In three August relief appearances so far, he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He has allowed just three hits, one walk, and struck out four in five and one-third innings.
Already in the last couple of weeks, the bullpen has allowed close games to get out of hand and has handed away several other victories. Whatever route Boudreau takes to solve his relief quandary, he needs to do so soon, before it erupts into a full-blown crisis.
Photo: Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics (Getty Images)