10/18/09 4:44 AM ET
Closer struggles continue in LCS
After six blown saves in DS, two more thus far in Round 2
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
The same postseason fate that has befallen the likes of Dennis Eckersley, Pat Darcy, Mitch Williams, Mark Wohlers, Byung-Hyun Kim and Robb Nen in past autumns is happening all too frequently for many fans these days.
The latest blown save came in the wee hours Sunday morning at Yankee Stadium, where Angels closer Brian Fuentes -- the Major League leader in saves this season with 48 -- gave up a leadoff homer to Alex Rodriguez on an 0-2 count in the 11th inning.
That tied the score at 3-3, and the Yankees went on to take a 2-0 lead in their American League Championship Series on a throwing error by Maicer Izturis in the bottom of the 13th. Rodriguez already had hit a game-tying homer in the ALDS against Twins closer Joe Nathan -- who finished right behind Fuentes this year with a club-record 47 saves.
"I was trying to elevate and didn't get it up enough," Fuentes said of the pitch that enabled A-Rod to extend his arms and go the other way. "I felt like I threw the ball really well minus the one pitch. Unfortunately, it cost us the game. I take full responsibility for that."
"You're definitely not thinking home run," Rodriguez explained. "And you are certainly not thinking home run after you're down 0-2. You are just trying to get on base. You definitely don't want to make the first out in that inning. And he made two tough pitches on me. Got me in the hole 0-2. I finally got a pitch I could handle and hit it well."
Phillies fans can relate. The National League Championship Series moves to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia at 8:07 ET tonight, and it's a 1-1 series tie rather than a 2-0 Phillies lead because Pedro Martinez's spectacular seven scoreless innings were wasted. Chan Ho Park started the eighth in relief and gave up consecutive singles, and although Chase Utley can be blamed for his error that allowed the tying run to score, it was Park who got the blown save.
There were six blown saves in the first round, tying for third-most since the advent of the Division Series in 1995. There were nine in 1995 and then seven in 1996. If this pattern continues, then it will be time to check the full postseason tallies.
In order, the 2009 Division Series round was punctuated by Ryan Franklin's blown save for the Cardinals against the Dodgers, Nathan's blown save for the Twins against the Yankees, Jonathan Papelbon's blown save for the Red Sox that allowed the Angels to clinch, Phillies reliever Ryan Madson (he of the blown save in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series) in the seventh inning of Game 3 and the eighth inning of Game 4, and Huston Street's blown save for the Rockies in Philadelphia's clincher on Monday night.
Any theories about the rash of blown saves this postseason has to start with A-Rod, simply because he has been responsible for two of them.
So far this postseason, at least, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers have not blown a save. History says that it comes with the territory eventually, and indeed one need only to think back to the 2004 ALCS against Boston to remember how it looked with Rivera facing such circumstances. He had that dreaded "BS" next to his name in the box score after Games 4 and 5. But that is a personal rarity, and other than surrendering that leadoff walk in Game 1 Friday against the Angels, Rivera has remained immune.
"I think the Yankees have been very blessed to have Mo over this long run that he has had," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously, you know, if you blow a save during the regular season, you have a lot of time to make up for that. But if you blow a save during the postseason, in a short series, there's not quite so much time. He has meant so much to this organization and to the success of this organization in the playoffs. I'm glad we have him."
Blown saves are just a part of the game, a part of the big postseason stage. But this postseason, they are becoming practically the norm rather than the exception. If someone blows a save in the World Series, then it will have reared itself at every round this postseason.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.