Yankees' faith in bullpen won't waver

Yankees' faith in bullpen won't waver

MINNEAPOLIS -- Heading into Friday evening's American League Division Series Game 2, the Yankees had been 15-0 when tied after seven innings. It's an awfully impressive statistic, and one that points to two things in particular -- a strong bullpen and an ability to score late.

The latter ability showed up in full force on Friday night. The former? Not so much. It was in spite of the bullpen, not because of it, that the Yankees managed to eke out a 4-3 victory over the Twins in the 11th inning, taking a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-five series.

And what does that forebode for the Yankees' future in October? Precisely nothing, of course.

Division Series
Gm. 1NYY 7, MIN 2WrapVideo
Gm. 2NYY 4, MIN 3 (11)WrapVideo
Gm. 3NYY 4, MIN 1WrapVideo

"Our bullpen is throwing the ball pretty well in pressure-packed situations," manager Joe Girardi said. "Each guy seemed to throw the ball pretty well, so I feel good about our bullpen."

So chalk Friday up to a bad day. Certainly, Phil Hughes would like to take back the hits he allowed to Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, the latter coming on an ill-advised curveball that Hughes probably should not have thrown. Certainly also, Mariano Rivera did not want to come on and immediately serve up an RBI single to Denard Span, putting the Yankees at a heavy disadvantage late in the game.

But the Yankees' bullpen has been so good and so consistent all year long that its members could hardly harp on one game gone awry.

Rivera, for example, is still enjoying one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career. With 44 saves in 46 regular-season chances to complement a 1.76 ERA, Rivera has been arguably the best closer in the league -- a nice luxury for a playoff team to have. Rivera has not allowed a postseason run since Game 1 of the 2005 ALDS against the Angels, a game that he saved.

0-2 Division Series deficits
Only four teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a Division Series, all of them from the American League.
Year Team Opponent
1995 Mariners Yankees
1999 Red Sox Indians
2001 Yankees A's
2003 Red Sox A's

So rare is it that Rivera cedes anything that the Twins were left shaking their heads at an opportunity that slipped through their fingers.

"We scored a run off Mariano last night," manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday morning back in Minnesota, where a thin layer of snow coated the ground. "That stung, because not too many people do that."

Hughes, meanwhile, has been a trustworthy setup man since June, having not allowed runs in back-to-back games all season. Prior to Game 2, Hughes allowed multiple runs in an outing just twice. The first time he did so, the right-hander followed it up with a string of 16 consecutive scoreless outings. The second time, he went 12 straight games without allowing another run.

Then there is Damaso Marte, the third Yankees reliever who struggled in Game 2 -- and the one whose troubles seem most worrisome. Marte, a lefty, was a last-minute addition to the team's playoff roster, and he may not have even made the cut had the Yankees played the Tigers, a team without the same level of left-handed pop as the Twins.

Since returning from the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation back in August, Marte has mustered a 5.63 ERA. Though still seemingly effective against lefties, Marte allowed singles to both of the left-handed batters he faced in the 11th inning of Game 2, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel.

With lefty Phil Coke also on the roster and pitching well, Girardi can certainly afford to pick his spots with Marte -- which means that Marte may be used cautiously for the rest of this postseason.

A stellar bullpen is important for a team such as the Yankees, because without it, they cannot continue to charge back to take the lead late in games, as has been their custom all season long.

"It starts with your bullpen," Girardi said. "When you get behind, you don't let other clubs put on a lot of tack-on runs."

Perhaps the Yankees were a bit fortunate on Friday when David Robertson escaped Marte's bases-loaded jam with no outs in the 11th. Such things require some luck. But if the Yankees can win on a night in which Rivera, Hughes, Marte and Robertson all serve up hard-hit balls and they can win on a night in which Rivera is not perfect, then what else can this team accomplish?

"It gave us so much momentum," said outfielder Brett Gardner, whose baserunning gaffe in the 10th temporarily cost the Yankees a chance to win the game. "Once the bases were loaded with no outs, we were saying, 'My goodness, we're going to have to score some runs in the bottom of the 11th to tie it.' But he got out of that jam, and that was huge."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.