Coke: “I’m not ready to go home yet”
Not surprisingly, Phil Coke was going crazy in the bullpen while the Tigers were rallying ahead in the sixth inning. He had a good view when Delmon Young’s home run completed the natural cycle and put the Tigers up 6-2. He wasn’t thinking about the ninth inning at that point, or the eighth for that matter, or whenever he would have to close.
When he did, he thought back to Tampa Bay.
The one save Coke recorded this year was a two-inning, 51-pitch marathon Aug. 23 at Tropicana Field that required him to finish off the Rays once the Tigers took the lead in the seventh. The headline was Brad Penny outpitching David Price, but Coke was the finishing act, stranding the tying run at third and winning run at second with a Ben Zobrist groundout.
When he got the call Thursday once another Nelson Cruz home run whittled Detroit’s lead to 7-4, that Rays save was his most recent experience. It helped balance the nerves a little.
“Yeah, it played out in my mind right after I got told I was going to close the game, when I went out for batting practice,” Coke said. “I was like, OK, I can do that. I’ve done it. I know what it’s going to take. Let’s do it. I wasn’t really nervous or anything.”
That was key. Of course, he didn’t have any cause for nerves until two hits and a walk turned the final out of his five-out save into a chore, with the potential tying run on base and Mike Napoli at bat.
“I have a personal history of overthinking things and getting myself into trouble,” Coke said. “I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be the reason why we were packing up and going home. I wasn’t OK with it.”
He stayed aggressive with Napoli, and ended up with the ground ball he needed to finish off the Rangers and send the ALCS back to Texas for Game 6.
He was close to nerves, but not quite there.
“If I had walked Napoli, it probably would’ve been a different story,” Coke said. But at the same time, I wasn’t giving in. I didn’t care who had the bat in their hand. I wasn’t giving in. I mean, I was doing everything I could, and I wanted to have something to do in forcing this to another game. I don’t want to go home yet. I’m not ready to go home yet.”