The images are ingrained forever in the minds of Tiger fans. Phil Coke slamming his glove to the ground as Prince Fielder caught a pop fly to finish off a sweep of the New York Yankees, sending the Tigers to the world series. Perhaps a less vivid memory is Coke allowing a couple of unremarkable base hits to right handed hitters in the tenth inning of game four of the World Series that finished off the Giants' sweep of the Tigers.
For three years, Jim Leyland handed the ball to Jose Valverde, "El Papa Grande" as he was affectionately known, whenever the Tigers had a lead to protect in the ninth inning. For three years, Valverde slammed the door. 110 out of 118 times, a 93% save rate. He was one of the best closers in the game.
Over three seasons, the Tigers had a closer who allowed opponents a batting average of just .205, who slugged barely .300 and had an OPS barely over .600. Entering the playoffs last year, Valverde had blown just one save opportunity from July 15 through the end of the season. But then, the wheels came off the wagon. Suddenly, the Tigers were without a closer.
Jim Leyland refused to throw his closer under the bus, insisting that Valverde would be available to pitch, and he would not name a replacement closer. That was not only the professional, courteous, and classy thing to do, but it was the only thing Leyland could do. He didn't name another closer for the simple reason that he didn't have one.
Tigers still looking for a reliable closer
Bless You Boys | Feb 4