CHICAGO | When a team’s bullpen – the perceived team strength -- performs according to plan, smiles and humorous body English prevail in the winning clubhouse.
Like Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field, following the White Sox’s 5-2 victory over Kansas City, a longtime nemesis. Someone asked Adam Dunn if he thought Tyler Flowers, who slugged his second homer of the season in the victory, might end up with more homers than the veteran slugger.
The jolly Dunn, fresh from his first homer leading off the second inning, gave the telltale sideways look. Next question.
A bullpen collapse turns the postgame atmosphere somber. But the Sox appear to have the talent to prevent late-inning meltdowns.
Manager Robin Ventura can evoke Tony La Russa and Whitey Herzog in using five relievers in three innings to nail down Jake Peavy’s first win of the season. He still had Nate Jones with his 100 miles per hour fastball and well-regarded lefty Hector Santiago in reserve.
“They complement each other,” Ventura said of his ‘pen. “A pretty tight-knit group.”
Ventura started out in the seventh protecting a 4-2 lead with veteran setup man Jesse Crain. He got into trouble immediately when Dewayne Wise made a two-base error on Eric Hosmer’s liner in left field, a defensive disaster area for the Sox on Wednesday. A single to left by Lorenzo Cain put runners on the corners. Then Crain struck out Jeff Francoeur swinging.
Southpaw specialist Donny Veal, who held left-handed hitters to an .094 average in 2012, was then summoned to face lefty-swinging Chris Getz. Former superstar Miguel Tejada pinch hit. Veal walked him to load the bases.
“I didn’t want to give in,” Veal said. “He’s a dangerous hitter and has done it a long time. He’s looking to drive in the run right there. We’re not giving him anything good to hit.”
True to form, Veal then got lefty hitter Alex Gordon to fly to short left, with Hosmer forced to hold at third. Newcomer Matt Lindstrom, called “an integral part” of the relief corps by Ventura, then came in to retire Alcides Escobar to get out of the worst jam of the afternoon.
Lindstrom pitched to one batter in the eighth. Veteran lefty Matt Thornton got the inning’s last two outs. Finally, Addison Reed retired the Royals in order in the ninth for his second save in as many games.
“For a bullpen to be good, you have to come in there and pick up guys,” said Lindstrom, a veteran of five previous teams who has closed for the Marlins and Astros.
Lindstrom has fit right into a bullpen that already had camaraderie from success in 2012.
“Some of these guys, like Addison, Nate and Hector, they don’t carry themselves like second-year players. They’re professional, and they go about their business. A lot of that has to do with Jesse and Matt (Thornton) handled their business over the years. Those young guys see the way they do things. I hope to add to that mix.”
Crain concurs. “If they have any questions, we’ll talk to them and guide through it,” he said. “Mostly, we just go out there, do our thing and lead by example.”
Reed believes virtually the entire bullpen can handle all roles.
“That’s the biggest strength of our bullpen,” he said. “All of us can go for saves. All of us can throw the seventh through the ninth. It’s an awesome group down there. If we keep doing this, we’re going to be all right.”