Have you ever heard of DE-JA, DE-JA, DE-JA, DE-JA VU???
Or maybe my headline could read – ‘The Case of Raul Ibanez Gets Even More Curious.’
Someone tell me how any pitchers right now remaining in the MLB playoffs even dare throw a pitch anywhere close to the wheelhouse of Raul? My guess is the marching orders of Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones to Jose Valverde in the ninth inning Saturday night was exactly to that effect.
Or I could go with the words of colleague Ari Kaufman, whose text got to me seemingly before Ibanez’s two-run shot even landed in the right field bleachers of a (not quite) jammed packed Yankee Stadium.
‘Jim Leyland blew this game…’
Turned out he didn’t blow the game, but he merely forced him to go through another $8 pack of heaters before his team finally won Game 1 of the ALCS in 12 innings.
Just because Valverde has been the Tigers closer for the past three years doesn’t mean he needed to be in that situation. As evidenced by Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Oakland, Jose is not exactly money in the bank these days.
Yes, Valverde converted all 49 of his save opportunities last year. But as a certain college football coach would say – ‘THAT WAS LAST (EXPLETIVE) YEAR!!!’
Not like Jose was a disaster in the 2012 regular season, although he did blow five saves while his ERA shot up to 3.78. It is the more recent appearances that bring up a red flag, like Wednesday night in Oakland plus three consecutive appearances in September where he was lit up.
Legends may be born in October, but loyalty also takes a back seat. You can use the cliche about getting closers ‘back on the horse’ after blowing a save, but the post-season is the wrong time to see someone continuously thrown off his mount like an over-matched rodeo rider.
Left-hander Phil Coke would have been a good option to start the ninth, at least long enough to face Ichiro Suzuki, who hit the first two-run homer to make the score 4-2. Do managers have to subscribe to the theory of automatically putting the ‘anointed’ closer in the ninth inning, even in the post-season??
I subscribe to going with the hot hand, which Valverde certainly is not at the moment. With a four-run lead, Leyland also had enough time to pull the rip-cord and put Octavio Dotel, who has closed himself, into the game. Loyalties and egos should be put aside in October, as evidenced by Joe Girardi now famously pulling Alex Rodriguez for the white-hot Ibanez in the ninth-inning the other night.
Instead Dotel leisurely warmed up until Raul made the game 4-4. Not giving Ibanez anything good to hit and Detroit taking their chances with Endy Chavez (who pinch-hit for A-Rod previous) inning would had also been wise strategy. Or left-handed rookie Drew Smyly (who got Ibanez without incident in the 11th inning) would have been a plan.
Panic Early is the best motto to use at this late juncture of the year.
As it turned out, the Tigers wound up winning Game 1 anyway, which is good because had the ninth inning meltdown resulted in a loss I’m not sure Detroit would be able to recover long-term.
Despite having only the seventh-best regular season record in the American League (88 wins with a third of the schedule consisting of beating up Indians/Royals/Twins) the Detroit Tigers have a hell of an opportunity. Alex Rodriguez’s tank is on empty, Derek Jeter suffered a season-ending broken ankle in extra innings (an injury which I guess you can say doesn’t happen if Yankees hadn’t rallied in ninth), and Raul Ibanez can only throw on the Superman cape so many times.
As I heard Cleveland radio announcer Tom Hamilton explain during a September game, the Tigers are a team built for post-season baseball, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup and lock-down starters like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in the rotation.
It’s going to be the magnified details that determine if the Tigers can get three more wins off the Yankees and advance to the Fall Classic.