Jose Valverde had been 3-for-3 on save opportunities with five scoreless innings since rejoining the Detroit Tigers. Sunday, he looked a little more like the struggling closer that the franchise tried to move on without this offseason.
Valverde, while throwing nothing but fastballs in a 29-pitch performance, walked two batters and allowed a game-tying single to Michael Brantley in the top of the ninth. The Indians then punched across a game-winning run off Darin Downs in the 10th to steal the game, and the series, 4-3.
The Tigers had more than enough chances to blow the game open, including in the fourth — they scored once, then loaded the bases with one out for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. But Cabrera popped out and Fielder K’d to end the threat.
Tigers’ MVP: Rick Porcello.
Brayan Pena had a big day for Detroit, too, delivering three hits and a two-run homer. But Porcello scratched and clawed his way through six solid innings, leaving with a 3-2 lead after allowing just four hits and striking out six. He induced a 4-6-3 double play on Asdrubal Cabrera with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, preserving a one-run lead.
Tigers’ Goat: Valverde.
No doubt Valverde will blame the biting chill Sunday on his inability (or unwillingness) to throw his split-finger. But without it, he flailed on the mound against the Tribe. Making matters worse, his fastball command was all over the place — a leadoff walk to Michael Bourn, with a steal shortly after, set the table for the blown save; a walk to Jason Giambi with two down then forced Brantley to the dish.
If Valverde is back down to just one pitch, he’s going to have a lot of the same problems he had late last season.
Checking the Standings: Back-to-back one-run losses to the Indians erased Detroit’s lead in the AL Central. The Tigers and Tribe are now tied atop the division at 20-15, with the Royals 1.5 back at 18-16.
What’s Next: The Tigers have a chance to get back on track before a long road trip, with the Houston Astros visiting Monday through Wednesday for a three-game series. Detroit swept four in Houston just last week.