Max Scherzer was cruising. He got into a little trouble by going 0-2 to 4 consecutive hitters and allowed two of them to get on and increase his pitch count, but he still pitched strongly and left with a 2-1 lead.
The Tigers increased that to 3-1 and Joaquin Benoit got through the 8th in typical fashion, getting a few easy outs then making it tough with a walk and a single. But the Tigers were heading to the 9th with a two run lead and three outs away from the ALCS. But then Jose Valverde happened.
Valverde brought his gas can with him to the mound and lit the infield on fire. However, it appeared he may be able to hold on and send the game into extra innings but Coco Crisp was pitched to and he hit a game winning RBI single to right field.
Why was Valverde still pitching? He hasn’t been good this year, despite blowing only four saves, Valverde has a pathetic 6.2 K/9. Which is bad for a starter but pretty awful for a closer. In September he has a 1.52 WHIP in just 13 innings and has been his worst all year. Yet stubborn Jim Leyland stuck with him.
He was able to get two outs and with a runner on second and Crisp, a switch hitter, coming to bat. He inexplicably gave him something to hit instead of pitching around him and either letting him take an unoccupied base or get himself out. Steven Drew was on deck, a lefty and lefties have a .754 OPS against Valverde this year compared to just .515 for right handed hitters.
So, Leyland lets Valverde give up the game winning hit with out a move to the pen or any sort of strategic play. Walk Crisp and Drew and pitch to Yoenis Cespedes, a righty with a strike out problem who is known to extend the strike zone. Or walk Crisp and bring in Smyly to pitch to Drew, the preferred lefty/lefty match up Leyland usually craves.
But, instead, Leyland did nothing, Valverde gave up the hit and the Tigers are headed to Game 5 with Justin Verlander on the mound instead of to Game 1 with Justin Verlander on the mound.
The Tigers did plenty to lose this game outside of the bottom of the 9th inning. Leaving runs on the table in the 4th and 6th innings and hitting into 3 double plays and letting errors chase Scherezr from the game when he was dominating certainly didn’t help at all. But, they were still in a position to win in the 9th and Valverde blew it so it is OK to simply blame him.
Do or die at 9:37 tonight with the Ace on the mound and he may have to go all 9 to secure the win. Not sure if anyone in the pen can be trusted…they could have contracted awfulness from Valverde.