After solid first month, 'pen has first meltdown

After solid first month, 'pen has first meltdown

CHICAGO -- The fact that the much-scrutinized Tigers bullpen went a month before its first blown lead late was a feat in itself to some.

Detroit relievers had tossed 7 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the series here, keeping them close against the White Sox on Tuesday and keeping them ahead into the eighth inning Wednesday. Detroit was 15-0 when leading after seven innings. Its 3.73 bullpen ERA ranked seventh in the American League.

The way Wednesday's three-run lead came apart in six batters made up for lost time. The anguished look from Joba Chamberlain as Melky Cabrera's game-tying three-run shot landed was no better in May than it would've been in April.

"Obviously, I didn't execute the pitch that I wanted to in the right spot," Chamberlain said after the 7-6 loss to the White Sox. "He did his job."

The way Nick Castellanos answered questions made sure Chamberlain wasn't standing alone.

"It was just a hard-hit line drive, but catchable," Castellanos said of the Adam Eaton line drive that went off his glove over his left shoulder before Cabrera struck. "Should've caught it."

The way manager Brad Ausmus summed it up was succinct.

"I saw six straight hits," he said. "I'm not gonna dissect it at this moment, but obviously that was the key to the game."

It was a collection of decisions that began when Alfredo Simon lasted just five innings. Al Alburquerque, Tom Gorzelanny and Angel Nesbitt went two outs each to hand the ball to Chamberlain with a 6-3 lead.

When Joe Nathan's injury pushed Joakim Soria to closer, it pushed Chamberlain back to the role he held most of last season. To Ausmus, it was Chamberlain's inning.

"I don't think there was another option for the eighth at that point," he said.

The way Chamberlain retired his first two batters left little suggestion Ausmus would need one. Once Micah Johnson's single brought the top of the order up, Chamberlain didn't retire another batter.

"He had good stuff tonight," catcher James McCann said. "His velocity was up there. He made some tough pitches with his slider. Unfortunately the ball just didn't go our way."

With Eaton up, Castellanos moved in to ward off the bunt. Chamberlain threw three fastballs, the last of which the left-handed-hitting Eaton hit hard.

"It's not like it's an easy play," Ausmus said. "It's a line drive [to third] off a left-handed bat, which you generally don't see."

Ausmus has used Andrew Romine as a defensive replacement at third this season. Ausmus said it was a consideration then. The fact that Castellanos' spot was due up in the ninth was a consideration against it.

Up came Cabrera, a switch-hitter batting just 2-for-27 off lefties after Gorzelanny came on to retire him in the sixth. Blaine Hardy was around, but he was the only non-closing reliever available. Cabrera was 2-for-4 off him for his career, and 0-for-2 off Chamberlain.

Cabrera got the one pitch McCann wishes he could have back.

"It was 2-1 and he threw a slider," McCann said. "I don't know whether he was sitting on it or reacting to it. Whatever it may be, he put a good swing on a pitch that a lot of hitters don't hit out. Just gotta tip your cap to him and move on to the next pitch."

Not until singles from Jose Abreu, Adam LaRoche and Avisail Garcia put the White Sox ahead did Ausmus make the move to Hardy.

"Hardy's the only guy that can throw multiple innings at that point down there," Ausmus said. "Because it's tied, you have to be more aware. ... You don't want to end up with nobody left down there."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.