CLEVELAND — Now that's how the Chicago White Sox' bullpen is supposed to work.
Since the team's trade-deadline deal for Craig Kimbrel, it's been a wonder whether the South Siders could get their relief corps into the menacing shape it was figured it could be in when the future Hall-of-Fame closer was acquired. Kimbrel's transition from the North Side to the South Side has been bumpy, to say the least, as evidenced by the 5.40 ERA in a White Sox uniform he carried into Friday night's game. The rest of the unit has not been without it stumbles, either.
But a night after securing the franchise's first division championship in 13 years, the bullpen put on a playoff-caliber show.
"The bullpen, to get those outs like they did so efficiently, just shows their potential," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said after the game. "If we can get the lead going into the last third of the game, that's a real asset, what we've got out there."
Spotted just a 1-0 lead on Luis Robert's solo homer, Dylan Cease was spinning a gem in the sixth inning when a sharply chopped grounder hit him in the arm, forcing his early exit. No matter, though, as the relief corps took over and dominated.
Ryan Burr did enough to end the sixth without a run on the board, getting some help on a base-running gaffe by Bradley Zimmer, whose batted ball ended Cease's night. But the trifecta of Aaron Bummer, Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks in the seventh, eighth and ninth really starred, the three hurlers facing just one more than the minimum, a single against Bummer the lone blemish on their night.
It was the kind of shutdown performance, albeit against the sub-.500 Cleveland Indians, that the White Sox envisioned when Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera joined the bullpen at the deadline, a potentially dominant group that could be a devastating weapon come playoff time.
"I think the talent that we have down there is unbelievable," Bummer told NBC Sports Chicago earlier this week. "As long as we keep throwing the ball the way that we're supposed to, we're going to be in the right spot.
"We can go out there and stack up with anybody. Any hitter out there, I think we've got the matchups and we have the ability to go out there and beat. Just keep throwing the ball well and keep throwing our pitches to the highest level that we can, and we're going to win a lot of games."
Kimbrel was particularly impressive Friday. He struck out all three hitters he faced in a lightning-quick eighth inning, turning in the kind of performance that made him the splashy addition he was and that seemingly justified the White Sox trading away youngsters Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to the other side of town.
He hasn't shown it often since coming over, but a dominant Kimbrel could be the thing that pushes the White Sox over the edge in their chase for a championship. A 1-2 punch of Kimbrel and Hendriks at the end of games could be nearly untouchable, allowing the South Siders to win games like Friday's, when an offense that's been inconsistent much of the season mustered only a run on four hits.
"He had everything the other side doesn't like to see," La Russa said of Kimbrel, "command of nasty pitches."
Hendriks — who, true to form, fist-pumped just as hard Friday night as he did at the close of Thursday's clincher — has been saying all season how important the final week of the regular season is, how important it is to peak right before the playoffs and carry that style of play into October.
The bullpen as a whole hasn't lived up to the sky-high expectations they set in the spring, but if they can pull it together at the right time — getting Kimbrel back to his Hall-of-Fame ways and getting Tepera back from his current stay on the IL — then this could be the much ballyhooed relief corps that was so touted all those months ago.
"Those guys have been there and done it. Craig's been arguably one of the best closers of all-time. Liam's been arguably the best closer of the past two years," Bummer said. "We can shorten a game, the other six guys down there. It's kind of hand the ball off to those guys and watch them do their thing.
"Every guy down there's got a role to do, and we've just got to be able to go out and do it."