NEW YORK -- The absence of Andrew Miller was felt again Sunday in the form of the shaking stands at Yankee Stadium. Thanks in part to a stellar effort from Mike Clevinger, Cleveland's bullpen was armed with a late lead, but it evaporated swiftly and led to a party at home plate in the Bronx.
The decisive blow was a three-run, walk-off home run by Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres, who sent a Dan Otero pitch over the wall in center to send the Tribe to a 7-4 defeat in the ninth inning. The roots of the loss can be traced to Cody Allen's entrance in the eighth, but they extend all the way back to Miller's trip to the disabled list last month.
Without their high-leverage relief weapon, the Indians' bullpen has descended into chaos.
"He's not available right now," Indians manager Terry Francona said bluntly when asked about Miller. "We've got to figure out ways to win games. We can't just win when our full complement's here. That's never going to work."
As recently as April 23, the Indians' bullpen ranked fourth in the Majors with a 2.55 ERA as a unit. Two days later, Miller grabbed his left leg after firing a pitch during an outing against the Cubs and wound up on the 10-day DL with a hamstring issue. Now, Cleveland has turned in a 9.29 bullpen ERA in its past 14 games, dropping to 28th (5.51 ERA) in MLB.
There have been factors involved in the relief corps' collapse. There was the 16-inning game against the Twins back on April 18 in Puerto Rico and -- more recently -- two extra-inning games, including one within a doubleheader, in the past six days. Righty Nicholas Goody (elbow inflammation) joined Miller on the DL last week, too.
There have been days impacted by poor weather, others sunk by abbreviated outings by starters and a wave of transactions that have rendered the bullpen almost unrecognizable. In the past five days, Ben Taylor has come and gone from Triple-A, both Matt Belisle and Jeff Beliveau were designated for assignment, and Alexi Ogando and Evan Marshall were called up.
When the Indians arrive at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Tuesday, righty Oliver Drake (acquired from the Brewers in a trade on Saturday) will join the bullpen as the latest reinforcement. Struggling starter Josh Tomlin has been moved to the 'pen to lend a hand this week, too.
"It's been very difficult," Allen said. "This game's not easy. Sometimes it can be a lot harder and that's just how it feels right now. It was a perfect storm this weekend. We're not playing our best baseball. And our bullpen, we're not throwing the ball very well right now."
Sunday's game began with a fantastic duel between Clevinger and Yankees rookie Domingo German. Clevinger struck out 10 and allowed only one hit through the first seven frames, while German spun six no-hit innings, struck out nine and only exited due to a pitch limit in his first MLB start.
Cleveland's lineup finally broke through in the eighth against Yankees setup man Dellin Betances, striking for four runs on four hits. Francona opted to stick with Clevinger to start the eighth and the righty did record an out, but he also issued two walks and saw his pitch count climb to a career-high 116.
That is when Francona handed the ball to Allen.
"The idea," Francona explained, "was to try to get to Cody with one out in the eighth -- just to give him a fair chance to be able to finish -- and he ended up walking two guys. So Cody had to work so hard to get out of that inning. That's a shame. [Clevinger] pitched really good."
With two outs, Allen allowed a run-scoring single to Brett Gardner before giving up a two-run double to Aaron Judge, trimming the Tribe's lead to 4-3. The closer needed 24 pitches to escape the inning, but was given the go-ahead to return for the ninth. Aaron Hicks and Neil Walker greeted him with consecutive doubles -- the latter tying the game.
"Once they tied it," Francona said, "I don't want to kill him."
Otero took over, recorded an out, intentionally walked slugger Giancarlo Stanton and then walked off the field as Torres circled the bases and the Yankees' players stormed the field. It was the latest ugly chapter in a brutally tough two weeks for the Tribe's bullpen.
"They've been having to cover a lot of ground," Clevinger said. "They're trying to do the best they can."
HE SAID IT
"I thought he was really good. I know he's young and I know he hadn't started, but he was [throwing] three pitches and he pitched like a veteran. I thought he was really good. And as long as we chase out of the zone, especially down, they're going to keep doing it. We have to kind of earn getting some pitches up in the zone." -- Francona, on German
"He pitched his tail off. That was probably the most frustrating part about losing a game like that -- or any game our bullpen gives it up. You're coming in after a guy just worked his tail off for his team to go get a win." -- Allen, on Clevinger
Indians ace Corey Kluber (5-1, 2.41 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound on Tuesday when the Tribe takes on the Brewers at 7:40 p.m. ET in the opener of a two-game series at Miller Park. Kluber is 12-4 with a 2.19 ERA in 19 career Interleague outings. Milwaukee will counter with lefty Wade Miley (1-0, 1.50 ERA).