ere in the second floor baseball bunker, we stop to watch. At Comerica, they stand. Is someone three outs from a no-hitter?
No, Jose Valverde has entered the game. After two recent implosions of Valverdian proportion, every pitch is worthy of intense scrutiny, as if pure mind power can get him through the ninth inning.
In the opener of last weekend’s series at Camden Yards, Valverde entered protecting a 5-3 lead. He allowed a solo homer to Baltimore Orioles leadoff hitter Nick Markakis and, two outs later, a three-run walkoff shot to Chris Dickerson.
At Comerica five days later, with the Cleveland Indians visiting,
Jason Giambi and Drew Stubbs took him deep before he retired the side to preserve a 7-5 win.
Valverde made believers of us with several excellent outings
to start his second tour of duty as the Tiger closer. Four homers
allowed in the span of twelve batters, however, bring storm
clouds to the horizon. Even an innocent one-out single gets the fans thinking: oh no, here we go again, what now?
Who else can be close with? asked Jim Leyland, rhetorically,
of the writers before today’s Indians finale, won by the Tigers
4-1 with Valverde getting the day off.
Right now, no one. In the Tiger pen where, per conventional
baseball wisdom each man has a defined role, Valverde is the guy.
But now, with their closer back to his old ways, the Tigers are
faced with a dilemma: do they stay with him, or seek a replacement before the July 31 trading deadline?
Leyland, the players’ manager, will go with Valverde. No closer
by committee. This means more white-knuckle ninth innings, but the Tigers by August will, of course, have distanced themselves from the AL Central pack. We’ll think about post-season when we get there.
In the Saturday middle game of this weekend’s Indians series,
Comerica fans were treated to a matchup no one, at the end of
last season, ever expected to see: Valverde facing Ryan Raburn.
The two excoriated Tigers met with Valverde protecting a 6-4 lead and Raburn representing the go-ahead run. In his previous at bat, Raburn homered with Yan Gomes on to get the Tribe within two.
When the fans cut loose, I wasn’t sure if they cheered because Raburn struck out, or because Valverde avoided pitching himself into deeper trouble. (The Tigers won and Valverde got his eighth save.)
Raburn also homered on Sunday, and the Comerica faithful again let him have it. Yes, he’s why their team didn’t win the division by 20 games last year, and why they melted down in the World Series. Rock and roll never forgets and, apparently, neither do Tiger fans.
The guy they still call “Rugburn” has cooled off, but ends today with seven homers and a very respectable .292 average. He’s one of three ex-Tigers who starred this week.
In Seattle on Friday, Jeremy Bonderman posted his first major league win in three years, limiting the New York Yankees to one run and three hits in six innings as the Mariners prevailed 4-1.
Jeff Baker hit one over the Monster on Thursday night, in a losing cause as the Boston Red Sox beat the Texas Rangers 4-3.
In Saturday’s 18 inning tug-of-war at Toronto, he put the Rangers
on the board with a seventh inning solo homer off Mark Buehrle. The circuit blows were his seventh, and eighth, of the year.
Who would have thought that Jeff Baker The Home Run Maker would
have eight in a third of a season? Last year as a Tiger, he was as anonymous as one can get. For a while, we didn’t even know he was on the roster. In August, he quietly disappeared, sent to the
Braves for a player to be named later. Had he hit then like now,
he’d still be a Tiger.
With some guys, things just seem to happen a certain way, explained Red Sox radio announcer Dave O’Brien after Baker’s Monster shot. Casey Stengel couldn’t have said it better. For Baker, and Raburn, and Bonderman; journeymen who get the most out of their ability, it’s our desire that things continue to go a certain way, once we’re out of town.