"No doubt about it, the bullpen has put us in this situation," acting manager Dale Sveum said. "We don't get the opportunity to hit those walk-off home runs if our bullpen hadn't come through. They've come through for quite a while now."
They had been excellent this week until a hiccup against the Cubs on Saturday. Salomon Torres gave up three runs in the ninth without getting an out, broadening the deficit to 7-3 and killing the momentum the lineup had built with a two-run eighth.
Before that, the bullpen had tossed 10 straight scoreless innings and entered Saturdayʼs contest with a 1.13 ERA over the past six games. That effort helped Milwaukee get back in the thick of the Wild Card race.
"When you get to the last part of September in the playoff push, everybody's up," said right-hander Todd Coffey, who hasn't given up a run since being signed off waivers on Sept. 10. "It doesn't matter how your arm feels. You've got to find a way to push through it. That's the great thing about this bullpen right now is everybody's stepping up. Everybody's up to the challenge right now."
It started Tuesday, when closer Torres retired the top of the Pirates' order in a tie game in the ninth. Prince Fielder's walk-off homer in the bottom half of the frame got the publicity. Torres got the win.
Seven relievers shared the credit in Thursday's victory on Ryan Braun's walk-off grand slam. Knowing starter Yovani Gallardo wouldn't be able to last long in his first start since May, Carlos Villanueva, Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota, Brian Shouse, Torres, Coffey and Mitch Stetter combined for five scoreless innings.
Seth McClung performed a solo act Friday, throwing four scoreless innings and holding the Cubs to one hit while striking out six. Rickie Weeks provided the punch with a three-run homer in the seventh.
Sveum admitted before Saturday's game that he was a few steps away from yanking McClung during a mound visit in the ninth.
"It's weird, because when I left the dugout, I was taking him out of the game," Sveum said.
When he got close enough to the mound, Sveum saw a "deathly" look in McClung's eyes. That sealed it, he was staying in.
"About halfway there, I said, 'This kid deserves one more hitter,'" Sveum said. "He's pitched his [butt] off."
Torres and a resurgent Gagne pitched all three games of the Pittsburgh series, and Coffey and Mota threw twice. Some athletes can block out pain or fatigue and go all-out on adrenaline in a playoff race. Not Mota. The 35-year-old feels the innings piling up, but he's persevering.
"You have to give it whatever you have to try and go to the playoffs," Mota said. "If I pitch two or three days in a row, I'm ready for the next game. There's no tomorrow. It's today."
Mota did get a day off on Friday. McClung's outing ensured that the rest of the bullpen is ready to go for the rest of the weekend.
"Everybody's available, everybody's fresh," Sveum said. "You can mix and match whatever you want to do today. Seth, that was huge."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.