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Angels' bullpen derailed in Game 4
Angels' 'pen derailed in Game 4
By Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM -- The Angels' bullpen was the club's nagging question mark coming into the postseason.
Through six games against the the titans of the American League East, the Red Sox and Yankees, the unit excelled.
On the seventh day, the bullpen did not rest. It got pounded.
Augmented by the addition of starter Ervin Santana, the relief corps had yielded three earned runs in 20 innings before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, when the Yankees erupted for six runs in five innings against the troupe.
While Jonathan Papelbon and friends were supposed to give Boston a major advantage in the late innings in the American League Division Series, it was the Sox's 'pen that imploded as the Angels' bullpen held firm.
Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65 2008 record: 100-62 AL West champs
Heading into Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, needing a win to stay alive, it will be all hands on deck for manager Mike Scioscia.
Apart from Alex Rodriguez tying Game 2 against closer Brian Fuentes with a long ball and Jorge Posada taking Kevin Jepsen deep in Game 3 to force extra innings, the Angels' bullpen produced outs at key points against the Yankees before things got out of hand on Tuesday night.
"Our bullpen's done well," Scioscia said. "It's only going to be as strong as our starting pitchers getting to a certain point in games. We need to have our starters give us some innings if we're going to win these games."
Scott Kazmir couldn't get an out in the fifth inning of Game 4, bringing the bullpen into play earlier than Scioscia wanted.
Joe Saunders went seven innings in a strong Game 2 start after John Lackey lasted 5 2/3 innings in Game 1. Jered Weaver, fighting command of his fastball, didn't get past the fifth inning in Game 3.
The bullpen stands ready and confident whenever it is called upon, according to one of its anchors, veteran Darren Oliver.
"We have a lot of leaders on this team," said Oliver, the team's distinguished elder statesman. "People aren't aware of it, but we have a lot of strong personalities besides Torii [Hunter] and Lackey. They're the two who get the media attention, but we've got leadership all over the room."
The bullpen underwent a complete overhaul this season, with the departure of Francisco Rodriguez to the Mets as a free agent and the loss of setup man Scot Shields to knee surgery in late May.
What's more, Jose Arredondo, experiencing elbow tenderness early in the season, never recaptured his sensational 2008 form in a setup role.
Adding to the strain on the bullpen was a decidedly unstable rotation that didn't fall into place until late August with the arrival of Kazmir and the reemergence of Saunders and Santana alongside Lackey and Weaver.
Into the void left by Shields and Arredondo stepped Jason Bulger and Jepsen, a pair of power-armed right-handers.
Only Oliver -- indispensable from start to finish in a variety of roles -- delivered more bullpen innings (73) than Bulger, with 65 2/3.
Well-traveled right-hander Matt Palmer, who surrendered four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in Game 4, pitched superbly in middle relief after winning his first six outings as an emergency starter.
"We've had a nice blend of experience and young guys," said Fuentes, who led the Majors in saves with 48 and has delivered two more in the postseason. "It took a while for roles to form, but a lot of guys have come through and gotten the job done."
The odd-man out in the rotation, Santana was the losing pitcher in Game 2 on an unearned run, the result of a Maicer Izturis throwing error. The hard-throwing righty came back to claim the Game 3 win after pitching a scoreless 11th inning and watching Jeff Mathis unload his walk-off double.
Through the first six games of the postseason, the Angels' bullpen was terrific, allowing three earned runs in 20 innings.
ALDS, Gm 1 vs. BOS
ALDS, Gm 2 vs. BOS
ALDS, Gm 3 vs. BOS
ALCS, Gm 1 vs. NYY
ALCS, Gm 2 vs. NYY
ALCS, Gm 3 vs. NYY
Games in bold are Angels wins.
Santana has given up one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.
Oliver has been the busiest of the Angels' relievers with six appearances and six scoreless postseason innings, yielding four hits and two walks while striking out four men.
"You can't say enough about the leadership we've gotten in the bullpen from D.O. and Brian," Bulger said. "Those guys have been around, and they have a calming influence on those of us with less experience.
"It's been a great experience -- and we're hoping to keep it going."
Bulger, who surrendered A-Rod's third homer of the series in the fifth inning on Tuesday night after picking up for Kazmir, has worked 3 1/3 postseason innings in four appearances, walking four hitters and hitting one while yielding the one run on Rodriguez's blast.
The only hit surrendered by Fuentes in 3 2/3 postseason innings was the opposite-field blast by A-Rod on Saturday night. It came on an 0-2 pitch the lefty was trying to elevate out of the strike zone but left in the big man's wheelhouse.
No Angels pitcher was more valuable down the stretch than Jepsen, who endured early-season struggles, a back ailment and a demotion to Triple-A Salt Lake before seizing control of the eighth inning in the second half.
"Jep held everything together," Fuentes said.
Jepsen, who combines a 96-97-mph heater with a low-90s slider, yielded just six earned runs in 27 2/3 innings in July and August, with 28 strikeouts against seven walks.
Jepsen was rocked by Posada's tying shot to center in Game 3 but worked out of trouble to get through the inning. It was the only run the bullpen coughed up in six innings.
Jepsen has given up two earned runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 postseason innings.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.