Valverde goes 40-for-40, sore back and all
If you were expecting a special celebration for Jose Valverde going 40-for-40 on save chances, you were probably a little disappointed. If you were expecting drama, you weren’t.
One out away from an orderly ninth inning, Chris Getz’s single put the potential tying run on base. One strike away from leaving him at first, Valverde couldn’t get pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to chase fastball outside.
That was partly by design. It wasn’t an intentional walk, but it was essentially the Tigers opting to face Alcides Escobar instead. Manager Jim Leyland had gone to the mound after a first-pitch ball to give his closer a message.
“Pena was 3-for-4 off him,” Leyland said, “So I just told him, ‘Look, whatever you do, don’t give in to him. If you walk him, I don’t care. … If you get behind, whatever you do, don’t throw strikes.’”
Valverde wanted to face him. Once the count went full, however, he didn’t risk it.
“Everybody knows Pena has good power, and I threw a sinker away,” Valverde said. “That’s what I had to do, and face Escobar. Everybody knows Escobar is a good player, but he doesn’t have the power that Pena has.”
Escobar had enough power to loft a fly ball into right field. He did not have enough power to make a threat out of it.
With that, Valverde had his 40th, the longest streak ever by an American League closer to start a season. The only longer streaks both come from the National League — 55 by Eric Gagne in 2003, and 41 from Brad Lidge in 2008.
Stretch streaks into multiple seasons, and Valverde’s 42 consecutive saves put him alone in fourth place on the all-time list. Gagne saved 84 in a row from 2002-04, Tom Gordon had 54 in 1998-99, and Lidge saved 47 straight from the end of 2007 until the start of 2009.
It was a rather subdued celebration from Valverde, who admitted he has been dealing with a sore back.
“My boy here, [Joaquin] Benoit, I made him a promise,” Valverde said. “I said if I do 50, I’ll do something special. … I promise, if I get 50, I’ll have something special for you.”
If he gets there, hopefully, his back should be fine. It’s still a little issue, Valverde said, but nothing serious.
“What I want to do is compete all the time. … I want to go on the mound every day, no matter what happens,” Valverde said. “My back, my neck, my arm, I want to compete and go to play for my teammates.”