Guardians' 'pen streak snapped, but big arms rested for G4

October 16th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The Guardians' bullpen finally gave up a run this postseason.

Cleveland's bullpen pitched with a deficit throughout its use in Game 3 of its American League Division Series against the Yankees on Saturday at Progressive Field.

The Guardians' bullpen looms larger than ever.

While late-inning rallies and clutch singles are becoming commonplace with this team, the Guardians did something much harder to fathom in their 6-5, walk-off win, pulling out a victory without using any of their primary late-inning relievers. Neither All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase nor setup men James Karinchak or Trevor Stephan pitched, in large part because there was never a lead to protect nor a tie game to preserve.

“We're trying to keep the game to where [the Yankees] have to use their bullpen and we don't go to our [big] guys,” manager Terry Francona said. “We're going to go to them when we have the lead.”

The Guardians stayed close enough to rally with four innings of relief from Sam Hentges, Enyel De Los Santos and Eli Morgan in support of starter Triston McKenzie. The fact that they gave up anything was a big deal for a relief corps that tossed 18 2/3 scoreless innings this postseason until Harrison Bader sent a Hentges fastball into the left-field bleachers in the seventh inning. It’s the second-longest scoreless streak by a bullpen to begin a postseason in history, according to Elias Sports Bureau, trailing only the 19 1/3 scoreless innings of relief put together by the 1983 Orioles.

Not since the 2017 Dodgers’ 28-inning scoreless streak had a bullpen put together such a run at any point in the postseason.

Until the ninth, that extra Yankees run loomed large, turning what would’ve been a one-run game into a two-run New York lead. But effectively, Hentges, De Los Santos and Morgan served their purpose, with Bader’s homer the only hit allowed.

“They gave us a chance,” Francona continued. “Sam left one pitch that Bader hit, but other than that, they kept it right where it was and gave us a chance and we didn't have to go to the other guys.”

Coming off of last weekend’s 15-inning win over the Rays to advance to the ALDS, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. All three of them helped keep that game scoreless, including three scoreless innings and six strikeouts from Hentges to give Oscar Gonzalez a chance to win it. De Los Santos retired the middle of the Rays' lineup in order in the 12th inning of that game.

With that in mind, Francona turned to De Los Santos when the top of the Yankees' lineup came up with two outs in the seventh. He retired Gleyber Torres, then did the same with Aaron Judge on a fly out in front of the left-field wall on his way to a hitless eighth. De Los Santos induced three swings and misses out of nine swings in just 19 pitches.

Now, instead of needing an all-hands-on-deck approach to save their season, the Guardians will have a chance to clinch the series Sunday night at home in Game 4 with Clase, Karinchak and Stephan all available in support of Cal Quantrill. And in Division Series with the current 2-2-1 home-road schedule, teams hosting Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead went on to win 21 of 26 such series before this season, including 15 series-clinching wins in Game 4.

The Yankees, meanwhile, need to win the next two games with their bullpen tested, though a deep outing from Gerrit Cole could help ease the challenge. Jonathan Loáisiga has pitched each of the last two nights; he hasn’t pitched three days in a row all season, though he did pitch three outings in four days a couple times down the stretch. Clarke Schmidt and Wandy Peralta have pitched the last two nights, as well. Clay Holmes did not pitch Saturday, but while he should be available Sunday, his ability to pitch on back-to-back days is in question.

As if the Guardians' bullpen wasn’t an advantage already, it’s looming larger now than it did going into the series, even on a night when Clase never got up to warm.