NEW YORK -- Win as a team, lose as a team, visit MLB Fan Cave as a team.
That is the code of the American League Central-leading Indians, or at least of their "Bullpen Mafia," as they are affectionately known around social media. Six of the seven relievers on their active roster arrived in a big van at 10:30 a.m. ET on Friday and stayed for nearly three hours, the most players ever at once to visit Major League Baseball's palatial game-watching hub in Manhattan.
Chad Durbin, Frank Herrmann, closer Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith were all there to hang out with MLB Dream Job winner Mike O'Hara before heading uptown to Yankee Stadium, where the Indians were about to open a huge series against the Bronx Bombers. The only one missing from the Bullpen Mafia was Rafael Perez, who had a slew of local relatives to entertain.
"That's our bullpen in a nutshell -- we're all here except for Raffy," Chris Perez joked. "No, I mean, we're a real tight bunch. We get along great. I think that's why we do so well in the games. We have each other's backs, and we get along on and off the field, so it works out well."
Added Herrmann: "Raffy keeps a low profile, but he's here in spirit."
The relievers toured the Fan Cave, and they each autographed a home plate that was reserved just for them on the wall of fame, which has been signed by more than 40 players and other celebrities so far this season. Downstairs, they spent much of the time filming a parody of the "Ocean's 11" movie, for a video to be released soon on MLBFanCave.com. Many bystanders outside on Broadway watched in curiosity as the half-dozen shot a scene walking together toward a camera, and it was a microcosm of how many people in general are getting to know this bunch.
The Indians have the second-best bullpen ERA in the AL at 3.25. Batters are hitting just .238 off the bullpen, fourth lowest in the league, and its 62 walks allowed are tied for second. They have remained pretty formidable while the overall ship has begun to take on some water in recent weeks.
The club has been in first or at least shared the lead since April 7, and was a season-high 15 games over .500 on May 23. It has lost 11 of its past 15, and after this series at New York, the Indians are looking at a particularly giant showdown series against the hard-charging Tigers at Comerica Park.
Durbin, at 33 the oldest in the Bullpen Mafia and third-oldest on the team, jumped at the chance to take this question when the six pitchers were asked as a group about their mindset during these teetering times.
"Simplify," he said. "Play the games one at a time, one inning at a time, one hitter at a time. Forget about all the talking heads with their projections and expectations."
Chris Perez entered this series fourth in the AL in saves with 15. Pestano (fourth at 1.29), Rafael Perez (T-7, 1.52), Sipp (17th, 2.42) and Chris Perez (T-20, 2.70) all rank in the top 20 for AL relief ERA. Smith (1.50) would rank seventh but he does not have the innings pitched to qualify. By any measure, it is clear that Cleveland's bullpen is a major strength, and a great reason for Tribe fans to remain optimistic.
"It's so loose. It's a different atmosphere," Chris Perez said of the Indians' clubhouse, comparing life now to his first two MLB seasons with the Cardinals. "We're a younger team. When I played for St. Louis, it was more of a veteran team. It's a different atmosphere. It's kind of, 'Do what you want to get ready for the game, be on your own.' You don't really have to follow a lot of rules, do some of the old-school baseball rookie stuff. It's nice. It's a fun atmosphere. You come to the ballpark every day and just worry about baseball, not worry about the other stuff."
Baseball fans on Twitter know the Cleveland closer as @ChrisPerez54. He has close to 15,000 followers now, and more notably it was he who has influenced others to follow, leading to what has become well-known as the #BullpenMafia hashtag. As a matter of record, it should be noted that Durbin actually preceded all of them in a previous Twitter life while with the Phillies.
"I was on it in '09, then last year it started getting a little bigger, and this spring it exploded," Chris Perez said. "Then they started seeing how many people are following me, and how many people I get to meet because they are following me on Twitter, just random people at the stadiums, and they wanted to be part of it, too. Now they're all part of it and we are a mafia on there."
His only real worry during the day on Friday was whether his baby, Maxwell, brought to the Fan Cave during the video shooting, would out scream the director. Fittingly, perhaps, it was the closer who stayed and exited last after his fellow relievers had left, and he stood there marveling as his baby was learning to crawl toward a baseball on the artificial grass in the Fan Cave lobby area.
"It's pretty nice here. They've done it first-class," Chris Perez said. "I'd want to watch every game sitting here. They've got a pool table, video games -- you can't beat 15 TVs in a room, Manhattan ..."