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10/11/06 1:30 AM ET

A's bullpen performance a positive

Zito's short outing gives way to standout night from relievers

OAKLAND -- A week earlier Barry Zito gave the A's a masterful performance by outdueling Minnesota's Johan Santana at the Metrodome.

This time the Oakland ace, pitching at home, couldn't get past the fourth inning against Nate Robertson and the Tigers.

To go to the bullpen so early can sometimes come at a cost later in a series, but in this case the added work was not entirely unwelcome by the A's, aside from the obvious fact that the team was down 5-0 at the time in what turned into a 5-1 Game 1 loss.


Because the A's at least found out their bullpen was still sharp, using three relievers who hadn't yet pitched in the postseason.

But that's a one-game silver lining to what was a dark cloud of an ALCS opener for the A's. In Game 1, it worked out OK. But if Esteban Loaiza follows Zito's lead with a rough start in Game 2, the A's will be in trouble in more ways than one. Not only is it likely they'd be on their way to losing the first two games of the series at home, but they will have delved into their bullpen that much more, making a comeback in the series that much more difficult.

All of the above makes Loaiza's performance in Wednesday's Game 2 more important than it was heading into the series, and puts the spotlight on Oakland's decision to go with the veteran over younger and more dynamic choice Rich Harden, who will work Game 3 in Detroit after tuning up following a long layoff due to injury.

Even if Loaiza pitches well, it's a safe bet that he won't pitch long. In Game 2 of the ALDS, he only went five innings. How many times has Loaiza gone less than five? The answer is six, and he's gone less than six full innings in 13 of his 26 starts, so there's a a strong chance he's not going to gobble up innings. Throw in the fact that Harden's not really stretched out after his long layoff, and the A's could be staring at having to get 13, 14, 15, 16 innings out of its bullpen in the first three games.

For now, the A's weathered the storm set up by their ace's ugly debut.

Since the bullpen worked only eight innings in the ALDS and had three days off since clinching on Friday, there were concerns the inactivity might have left some of the relievers a little rusty. But the Oakland bullpen held Detroit scoreless over the final 5 1/3 innings in Game 1.

"Actually, the guys that pitched tonight, for the most part, I think all of them didn't even pitch in the Division Series," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "That's another, if you're going to take some plusses out of a loss in a seven-game series, [Joe] Kennedy needed some work; Chad [Gaudin] needed some work; I wanted to make sure we got [Joe] Blanton in there, pitched two innings, very effectively, in case we have a situation where we're going to need some innings."

Gaudin, Kennedy and Blanton didn't pitch in the ALDS, yet all three worked in this one, along with right-handed reliever Kiko Calero, who worked an inning in the ALDS.

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That quartet held the Tigers to four hits and a pair of walks.

"The guys that didn't pitch in the Division Series, not only did they get to pitch tonight, but they pitched effectively," Macha said. "For me, the encouraging thing is the work we had out of the bullpen."

Detroit's bullpen also turned in a strong performance, as Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones held the A's to a run in four innings in relief of Nate Robertson.

"Really, as I looked at the series, because both teams have a solid bullpen, it's going to be who scores on the starters," Macha said. "Then having that lead turning over [to] the bullpen, that's basically what happened tonight. Our bullpen did great work, a bunch of shutout innings there. So did theirs. It's just that they wound up scoring on our starter and we didn't."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.