06/09/2002 8:07 pm ET
SF suffers another bullpen letdown
By Josh Rawitch / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Following a heartbreaking loss in the series finale at Yankee Stadium, the mood in the Giants' clubhouse was understandably solemn. Manager Dusty Baker was disappointed that Russ Ortiz, not Roger Clemens, was warned for an inside pitch to the opponent's marquee player, and Baker was also visibly annoyed at a line of questioning regarding another bullpen collapse in the 4-2 loss.
Outside Baker's office, Barry Bonds chose not to comment about the game at all, and somewhere in the halls of Yankee Stadium was General Manager Brian Sabean, who must be wondering how to help put his team over the hump.
It is still only June, so to say that Sabean is worried would be incorrect. But concerned about a bullpen that has blown seven of its first 22 save opportunities? The thought has to have crossed his mind.
The latest instance came after a brilliant effort by Ortiz, who left the game after seven innings and put his team's fate in the hands of a couple of relievers that were automatic last year. But that word could hardly be used to describe Felix Rodriguez and Robb Nen on Saturday.
With a 2-1 lead and a chance to take two of three from the Yankees on the road, Rodriguez entered the game and walked the leadoff batter, Jason Giambi. After retiring Bernie Williams and Robin Ventura, he gave up a single to Jorge Posada, and Baker immediately went to the bullpen without a second thought.
"Felix was sort of struggling that inning," said Baker, who brought in Nen to face rookie left-hander Nick Johnson. "When Posada got that hit, I figured Robb had more weapons against Johnson than Felix. If I leave Felix out there when he's been struggling and something happens, than it's 'Why did we leave Felix in there?'"
Southpaws Aaron Fultz (6.75 ERA) and Chad Zerbe (46 career big-league appearances) were never an option, according to Baker. Had they entered the game, Yankees manager Joe Torre might have pinch-hit with a right-hander for Johnson, but no one will ever know. Nen's 1-2 pitch was drilled deep to center and off the wall for a double, scoring both runners and ultimately giving New York the victory.
"You have to be careful when you face all the lefties," said Rodriguez. "That's the game, you know? I feel great. Nothing different [from last year]."
The numbers, though, say otherwise. After allowing multiple runs in a game just three times last season, Rodriguez (1-3) has done so six times this year and has an ERA of 5.00. Last season, he finished the year 9-1 with a 1.68 mark, the lowest among all Major League relievers.
With unbalanced play in a division full of left-handers like Shawn Green, Todd Helton, Luis Gonzalez, Larry Walker and Ryan Klesko, can the Giants afford not to have a go-to southpaw in the bullpen?
They signed Jason Christiansen to a three-year deal during the offseason, and he will miss the next year due to Tommy John surgery. The Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Rockies each have a veteran left-hander they can count on, and the success and failure of that pitcher might play a huge role in which team emerges victorious at the end of September.
Whether or not Sabean has his eye on lefties like Montreal's Scott Stewart, Baltimore's Buddy Groom or Pittsburgh's Scott Sauerbeck is not something he's likely to divulge, nor are they necessarily available in a trade. But each of those players is among the Top 10 in the Major Leagues in holds, the equivalent to saves for a middle reliever.
Had the Giants been able to hold and save the victory for Ortiz, it would have capped off an incredible afternoon for the right-hander. Facing Clemens (8-2), the pitcher he idolized growing up, Ortiz looked equally as good.
"After the game was over, I realized it was obviously a pretty special day to be able to face someone you admired," he said. "Especially in the National League, you don't get to do that every day, face a guy that has almost 300 wins."
Actually, the entire series was special, given that the two teams had not played each other in a meaningful contest in 40 years.
"In this game, if you want to be the best, you've got to play the best and beat the best," said Rich Aurilia. "We played with them all weekend. ... We played, execution-wise, probably the best we've played in a long time. To lose that one is a little tough."
It's also somewhat telling. If a team is executing as well as it can and getting stellar starting pitching, yet still losing, it might mean that it's time for one of Sabean's surprise acquisitions. Until then, the team will continue to battle with what they have.
"You try and learn from the mistakes," said Aurilia, "and hopefully come back here in October and play them again."
NOTES: Second baseman Jeff Kent did not play Saturday for the first time since April 6 due to a sore left big toe. He fouled a pitch off the toe in Saturday's game and said the injury is day-to-day. "Jeff rarely asks for rest, so I knew it was something drastic," said Baker. "It has to be hurting big time because he never wants to come out of there." ... Kent was originally in the lineup but was a late scratch, while Barry Bonds was first listed as the left fielder and then switched to DH when he reported that his legs were sore.
Josh Rawitch covers the Giants for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.