Halos fall to Yankees despite stellar relief
NEW YORK -- No segment of a baseball roster shares a bond quite like the relievers.
"We have our own dugout down there, away from the team," right-hander Michael Kohn said of the bullpen he shares with six others for at least three hours out of every day for up to seven months out of every year. "We feed off each other's energy. If a couple guys are scuffling, we try to pick each other up every day. We're all brothers down there."
And that's part of why Saturday seemed so encouraging, even though it ended in a loss.
A dynamic -- albeit shorthanded -- offense had the tying run in scoring position in each of the last three innings but could not capitalize six consecutive times, taking a 4-3 loss at Yankee Stadium to split the first two games of a three-game series, move to 4-4 on this road trip and fall one game below .500 for the 11th time this season.
But the beleaguered bullpen was lights-out, coming in relief of Hector Santiago with one out in the fifth and putting up zeros the rest of the way. Four relievers -- Kevin Jepsen, Nick Maronde, Ernesto Frieri and Kohn himself -- gave up only one hit, struck out three and didn't issue a walk in 4 2/3 innings.
"A loss is a loss," manager Mike Scioscia said. "You always try to take some positives out of a game. One of the positives was definitely the way our bullpen performed. One of the negatives is, we had to use a lot of our bullpen this afternoon in a loss."
But it'll be a worthwhile sacrifice if this bullpen -- a bullpen that entered the game with a 4.84 ERA, four saves, 11 homers and 34 walks in 67 innings while allowing 15 of 25 inherited runners to score -- can somehow build on an effort like this.
Jepsen scoffs at the notion of momentum, saying, "I guess it's for you guys to write, make a story out of it, building off it, whatever -- but we just go out there and do our job when the phone rings."
Instead he views this performance as something that should be considered the norm.
"We're still in April," he said. "If we're talking about whether or not we can win or lose with this 'pen in April based on a couple outings here and there -- we knew what we had coming in, and we felt strong. Nothing's changed from Spring Training to now. I think everybody in that 'pen has had a rocky outing, but other than that, I think that kind of fluctuates our numbers a bit. I think we've been throwing better than what it may look on paper."
Santiago's outing changed with one balk call, one that came with the bases loaded and one out in the second. The 26-year-old left-hander briefly and subtly separated his hands from his glove while on the rubber, allowing the first run to score.
As Scioscia pointed out, "If you bring your hands together, you're not allowed to separate them without making a delivery."
Santiago, however, said he "didn't do anything different than I always do."
Three pitches later, Chris Iannetta expected a fastball, Santiago thought he was supposed to throw a changeup, and Yankees backup catcher John Ryan Murphy hit the two-run single that gave his team a two-run lead.
Santiago, who also gave up a leadoff homer to Murphy in the fifth, feels that the balk call affected his concentration.
"There is no doubt about it," he said. "Now, in the back of your head, you have a little anger. You just battled to get the second out with the bases loaded and [Kelly] Johnson up there. And then I missed a pitch. It wasn't supposed to be a changeup. In the back of your head, maybe you're thinking about that balk still and not what's going on in that at-bat. It definitely takes an effect."
Santiago's outing lasted only 76 pitches because he was scuffling in the fifth and Scioscia didn't want his lefty facing the right-handed-hitting Alfonso Soriano with two on and one out.
Jepsen retired the next two hitters, giving him 7 1/3 scoreless innings -- on four hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts -- since giving up five earned runs on Opening Day.
Maronde, the only lefty in the bullpen with Sean Burnett recovering from August elbow surgery, gave up a leadoff single in the sixth before recording back-to-back outs.
Kohn recorded all four hitters he faced, giving him 11 consecutive scoreless outings.
And Frieri, demoted from the closer's role after a ninth-inning meltdown on Wednesday, pitched a second consecutive scoreless inning, this time limiting the Yankees to Brett Gardner's hit by pitch to preserve a one-run game in the eighth.
If something like this gets Frieri back on track, then the memory of Albert Pujols (flyout) and Howie Kendrick (strikeout) being retired by Yankees closer David Robertson with one out and Mike Trout on second will be all but forgotten.
"I know that right now, by definition, he's not the closer, but we all think of Ernie as our closer," Kohn said. "He's done so well at that job. He just had a couple of rough patches here and there and that's it. Ernie can throw the ball as well as any closer out there. For him to get zeros just helps us as a team."