The way baseball is, the way the media is and the way fans are, most of what will be written about and talked about the Oakland bullpen this year will fall on Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.
And for legitimate reasons – they pitch the final two innings, and the final two innings is often where a game is won or lost.
On Friday, the game was decided, to a large degree, anyway, in the fifth inning. Manager Bob Melvin went to the pen for Fernando Rodriguez with one out and men on first and third after the second of two Jed Lowrie errors had put starter Eric Surkamp in a bind. The manager had just a very few words for Rodriguez.
“He told me to keep the ball and we’d get me a double play,’’ Rodriguez said. It couldn’t have played out much better. The infield was in a severe shift with cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz at the plate. Rodriguez kept the ball down. Cruz slashed a grounder to shortstop Marcus Semien. The double play was on.
As a whole, the Oakland bullpen threw 4.2 innings of scoreless ball Friday. As a group, the relievers will attest the 1.2 innings turned in by Rodriguez midgame were the hardest to come by.
“I did that role last year,’’ Ryan Madson said. He began the season in Kansas City pitching in middle relief, although by season’s end he was pitching at the end of the game for the World Series champions. “It can be easy to overlook. But what he did tonight was not easy.’’
Surkamp said the double play grounder that Rodriguez got was “the big moment in the game, at least up to’’ Chris Coghlan’s homer to win it in the ninth.
“If the Mariners could have snuck one more run there, it would have been tough for us,’’ Surkamp said. “But when we turned that double play, we changed the game’s momentum.’’
The bullpen had another surprise. Melvin had closer Sean Doolittle throw the eighth inning and his usual eighth-inning man, Madson, pitch the ninth. The idea was to have Doolittle, a lefty, face the two most potent lefties in the Seattle lineup, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
They were due up in the eighth inning and Melvin said Doolittle told him he knew he’d be pitching the eighth because of the matchups. And it worked. Cano, who’d homered four times in his first three games, hit a routine fly to left and Seager popped out to center.
“I kind of flipped eight, nine because of the lefties,’’ Melvin said. “But for tonight, Fernando was the star. He’s the one coming it with traffic out there. And that’s the toughest role.
“The farther you go in the game obviously, you see the guys who are considered your stars as far as the bullpen goes, but for me that guy who comes in with guys on base and picks up the starter, he probably has the toughest job.’’
–When Josh Reddick got into the A’s lineup last year, the season was already a week old. He’d been held back because of injuries, and almost immediately he started feeling the pinch. He wanted to go deep and get that first home run out of the way.
It didn’t happen for about a week after his return, and Oakland’s season was 12 days old before Reddick would go deep for the first of 20 times.
On Friday he hammered his first homer in Game 5. It came as a relief.
“It’s always good to get that first one,’’ he said. “The last thing you want to do is to be thinking about when it might come.’’