October 2011

Coke: “I’m not ready to go home yet”

Phil Coke kisses the ball that got him the final out of Game 5. (Getty Images)

Phil Coke kisses the ball that got him the final out of Game 5. (Getty Images)

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.”

Lamont: “Sometimes you need a little luck”

Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont wants a World Series ring. He still has an opportunity to win it this year after they pulled out Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, and he tried to grab the bag that helped save that chance for him.

“I tried to get the base after the game,” Lamont said, “but it had a camera in it.”

Whether it had any luck left in it after the Tigers milked some out of it is unknown.

“Sometimes you need a little luck,” Lamont said with a smile. “Sometimes a lot of luck.”

Lamont makes his living at third base, even if he doesn’t make plays there. It’s his job to judge balls all over the field and decide whether that runner heading in from first or second has a chance to score on it. He has had an active and much-discussed series at that, from his decision to hold Ramon Santiago at third base in Game 2 as the potential winning run to his choice to send Miguel Cabrera on Delmon Young’s eighth-inning fly ball in Game 4.

All in all, Lamont has proven to be a pretty good judge, especially on balls headed past third base and into left field. But he had no way of anticipating what was going to happen once Miguel Cabrera’s ground ball in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game headed that way.

He saw Rangers Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre playing the line and getting in front of the ball, behind the bag, ready to start a double play. He saw Beltre put his glove up at what ended up as thin air and look behind him in bewilderment.

He saw Ryan Raburn charging for third while the ball was still bouncing around the left-field corner, making his job easy — Raburn waved in, Tigers pulled ahead.

He still couldn’t quite believe it. He has seen plenty of balls hit the bag over his years coaching there, but very few react like that.

“It happens,” Lamont said, “not very often. Just lucky it hit kind of the front [of the bag] and skipped up. If it just hit on the top, he would’ve probably caught it.”

He figures the topspin helped determine the hop. To him, though, that was the first break. The second lucky bounce was the way the ball rolled into the corner, strong enough to get there yet not quickly enough for left fielder David Murphy to have a play at the plate.

“When it went down there, I could see it go into the corner and it kicked,” Lamont said. “It was slow. That’s what happens sometimes. This one took a long time to get there. That makes a difference.

“It was hit hard enough that it got down in the corner. It could’ve just stopped. If it had done that, he would’ve run straight for it.”

It took a little negotiation from higher powers. Eventually, manager Jim Leyland ended up with it.

“I have that bag in my office right now,” Leyland said. “And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you.”

For now, it’s going to stay in the clubhouse.

“You know, it put us to Game 6,” Lamont said. “[It's] not for me, for the team. Between that and Victor [Martinez] hitting the triple standing on there, it’s quite a bag.”

With bullpen gassed, it’s Verlander or bust

The Tigers’ postseason hopes are going to ride or die with Justin Verlander.

With manager Jim Leyland ruling out both closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit after three straight days of pitching, the only opponent that’s going to knock Verlander out of Game 5 in the American League Championship Series is his own pitch count.

It’s the opposite approach to the quick hook many managers use in elimination games in the postseason. But with a 24 regular-season wins, a pitching Triple Crown and a very strong case for AL MVP, he isn’t a typical pitcher, even in an elimination game.

“The only thing I’m worried today is his pitch count,” Leyland said Thursday morning. “I’m not worried about the results. If he gives up some runs, he gives up some runs. That’s just the way it is. Too bad, and [in that case] we’ll probably get beat.”

Given the pitch counts Verlander has piled up this season, he’s going to be out there a while. The only real concern Leyland cited is if Verlander throws a lot of pitches in the early innings and struggles to conserve pitches through the middle innings.

The only reliever Leyland mentioned by name for being on call today is left-hander Phil Coke, who mopped up the 11th inning Wednesday night after Nelson Cruz’s three-run homer gave the Rangers their 7-3 lead.

Leyland said Coke could pitch two innings “if he has to.”

“I hope he doesn’t have to,” Leyland said. “If he has to, we’re probably not going to win.”

In other words, Leyland continued, “I’m hoping Verlander can give us nine [innings].”

Verlander has thrown 13 innings over three starts this postseason, but two of those were shortened by rain. The one that wasn’t came in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees, and he delivered eight innings of four-run ball in that outing.

Valverde not only pitched three straight days, his limit during the regular season, he pitched multiple innings in two of those. His second inning of work Wednesday night was his downfall, giving up three hits and an intentional walk that led to four runs, three of them on Cruz’s homer.

When Leyland was asked about Valverde’s availability before Game 4, he had a one-word answer: “Postseason.”

Even the postseason, however, has its limits.

“I’m not pitching either one of them,” Leyland said. “Valverde’s going to say that he’s OK, but I’m not pitching him. We’re going to get somebody hurt if we’re not careful. We’ve got a guy that saved 51 games in a row, and you’ve got an option on him. I mean, people can bark, but they’re pitching on fumes and heart right now.”

ALCS Game 5: Messing with Texas

Victor Martinez and Delmon Young are again tentatively slated in the starting lineup. Cabrera and Martinez are again batting third and fourth.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, cf
  2. Ryan Raburn, rf
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1b
  4. Victor Martinez, dh
  5. Delmon Young, lf
  6. Jhonny Peralta, ss
  7. Brandon Inge, 3b
  8. Alex Avila, c
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2b

P: Justin Verlander

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2b
  2. Elvis Andrus, ss
  3. Josh Hamilton, cf
  4. Michael Young, dh
  5. Adrian Beltre, 3b
  6. Mike Napoli, c
  7. Nelson Cruz, rf
  8. David Murphy, lf
  9. Mitch Moreland, 1b

P: C.J. Wilson

Decisions loom large in approach to Cabrera

The good news for the Tigers, or the silver lining in their Game 4 loss, is that they finally have Miguel Cabrera back in the form where he’s arguably the most feared hitter in the league. The bad news for Detroit is that he didn’t get many chances to show it.

One chance vanished because of a daring move by Rangers manager Ron Washington. Another vanished by the Tigers’ own choice.

Out of 144 regular-season intentional walks for Cabrera’s career, only one came with the bases empty, that coming in 2007. But with one out in the eighth inning, Washington gave him one for his postseason career as well. After watching his Rangers relievers try and fail to pitch around him during this ALCS, Washington effectively took it out of their hands.

“We tried to pitch around Cabrera twice, and he got us,” Washington said. “So this time I wasn’t taking any chance. And it almost came back and bit me. But he’s the best baseball player out there. I mean, this guy can just do so much.”

It was Victor Martinez’s base hit that followed which almost brought Cabrera back to haunt them. But in the end, the injury-riddled lineup which Washington saw fit to face with Cabrera on base paid off for him once Delmon Young’s fly ball to medium depth right field set up Nelson Cruz to throw home and get Cabrera, who was sent home there rather than held for slumping Alex Avila.

The Tigers were effectively helpless there, though they could have pinch-hit for Young if they so chose and likely risked putting Don Kelly against lefty Darren Oliver. By contrast, the move that took the bat out of Cabrera’s hands in the 10th belonged to Austin Jackson.

It was his green light to try to steal after being hit by a pitch with one out, and he tried to take it. His manager defended him on it afterward.

“Absolutely,” Leyland said. I agreed with it 100 percent.”

But while it was an aggressive move, it’s hard to find the upside rewarding enough to make it the right move. If Jackson isn’t successful there, and he wasn’t, the Tigers risk  running themselves out of an inning. If he were successful, he would take away the double-play possibility for Ryan Raburn, but he’d almost surely take away an at-bat for Cabrera, who would’ve been intentionally walked with first base open. So while they would’ve had two at-bats with the winning run in scoring position, neither of them would’ve been with Cabrera at the plate.

Game 4 of ALCS set to start at 6:30

Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the Tigers and Rangers is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET after a weather system parked over metro Detroit all afternoon finally made its way east.

It marked the third time this series that weather has played a role in this series. Two separate rain delays in the fifth inning of Game 1 Saturday night knocked starters Justin Verlander and C.J. Wilson out of the game. A day later, forecasts of a rain-soaked Sunday night in Texas pushed back Game 2 to Monday afternoon and cost the two teams a workout day in Detroit and forced Detroit fans to channel surf for a stretch between the Tigers game and the Lions’ return to Monday Night Football.

The forecasts called for a 30 percent chance of showers going into the day Wednesday, but Mother Nature had other ideas with a rain system just west enough to keep raining on Comerica Park as it moved northward. The rain began in the morning and didn’t let up until shortly after 5 p.m. ET. The tarp came off the infield around 5:50 p.m.

Because the game was delayed from the outset, Game 4 starters Rick Porcello and Matt Harrison didn’t lose any pitches and were at full strength for the start.

One likely factor of concern for Major League Baseball in its Wednesday delay was the forecast for the next couple days. The National Weather Service calls for a 60 percent of rain Wednesday night, 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday afternoon, then rising to 70 percent Thursday night. Friday is scheduled to be an off-day between Games 5 and 6, allowing the teams to travel from Detroit back to Texas.

Game 4 of ALCS in a rain delay

It might sound like a repeat, but weather has once again put the American League Championship Series on hold, forcing Game 4 into a rain delay.

A rain system parked itself over southeast Michigan and southwestern Ontario Wednesday afternoon, just west enough to keep Comerica Park under showers for much of the afternoon. Though FOX tentatively said on Twitter that they were hoping to start the game around 5:15 p.m. ET, then 5:45, the tarp was still on the field as of 5:25.

Rain has already been a problem in this series. Game 2 of the series was pushed back a day from last Sunday due to forecasts of a rainy evening in Arlington, Texas. The postponement forced the two teams to play Game 2 on Monday, which was originally slated to be a workout day, but the extra day gave some injured Tigers an extra day to recuperate.

Tigers relievers were spotted long-tossing in the outfield Wednesday afternoon, but there was no sign of starter Rick Porcello loosening up.

One factor of concern for Major League Baseball is the forecast. The National Weather Service calls for a 60 percent of rain Wednesday night, 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday afternoon, then rising to 70 percent Thursday night. Friday is scheduled to be an off-day between Games 5 and 6, allowing the teams to travel from Detroit back to Texas.

Martinez, Young both in Tigers lineup

Victor Martinez woke up alive Wednesday morning, rolled out of the bed and rolled back into the Tigers lineup for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. So, apparently, did Delmon Young.

As a result, the Tigers are about as close to full strength in their lineup as they can be for what shapes up as a critical swing game in this series, which took a turn with Detroit’s win in Game 3 Tuesday night.

“It looks like Victor’s a go,” Leyland said Wednesday afternoon, “and Delmon [Young] is a question mark.”

At that point, Leyland was waiting for final word from the Tigers medical staff. Once he got it, Young was ruled in. The only change in his situation is that he’s batting fifth instead of third.

Martinez strained an intercostal muscle on his right side on his home-run swing in the fourth inning Tuesday night, which left him hobbling around the basepaths. He seemed on his way out of the lineup, having slammed his helmet and limped down the stairs into the training room as soon as he reached the dugout.

“The only way I don’t play [in Game 4],” Martinez said Tuesday night, “is if I wake up and I’m dead.”

Nobody seemed to doubt him.

“Victor Martinez is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Leyland said. “I’m talking about tough. I take my hat off, and Delmon Young the same. … Players on both teams are tough, and I think they’re showing that. And I think they’re showing why they’re who they are. Big time players, they expect to be in a lineup. They know the fans want to see them in the lineup. They know it helps their team.

Even with Young back, Miguel Cabrera is staying in the third spot, with Martinez batting cleanup. That seems to be an acknowledgement of Young’s limitations with his left abdominal strain. He had been batting third in front of Cabrera while he was healthy.

If Martinez couldn’t play, Leyland said, Young could have been an option at designated hitter. However, Leyland said he wasn’t willing to do that Tuesday night when it appeared Martinez might have to leave the game. Wilson Betemit had a bat in his hands in the Tigers dugout, and would have hit for Martinez if he couldn’t go.

“You really have to sit down and think about if the guy wants to play,” Leyland said. “I appreciate that, but if his effectiveness is not good because of this, just to put him in there, maybe you’re not always doing the right thing. So that’s a little bit of a tough situation.”

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ryan Raburn, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Rick Porcello

YANKEES

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Josh Hamilton, CF
  4. Michael Young, 1B
  5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  6. Mike Napoli, C
  7. Nelson Cruz, RF
  8. David Murphy, LF
  9. Yorvit Torrealba, DH

P: Matt Harrison

Oblique forces Young out of Tigers lineup

The original lineup the Tigers had released had Delmon Young in left field, batting third. Like Monday, however, that was tentative, depending on how Young felt. Shortly after that came word that Young won’t be able to play.

“It stiffened up,” Jim Leyland said of Young’s oblique. “It’s really sore today. I’m not going to go into further detail. That’s all I have for you. I’m not a doctor. He’s hurting. I respect that. If Delmon Young is not in the lineup, believe me, he’s hurting, because he loves to play. I’ll leave it at that.”

Young’s absence means Andy Dirks will get his first start of the postseason. He’s batting ninth in the new lineup. Don Kelly moves to fifth, Ramon Santiago shifts to second, everyone else moves up.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Don Kelly, 3B
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Ryan Raburn, LF
  9. Andy Dirks, RF

P: Doug Fister

ALCS Game 2: Delmon in the lineup

Jim Leyland had two lineups ready for this game.He’ll use the one that has Delmon Young in it. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Young is good to go for Game 2. Swinging is not an issue for Young, Rand said. The big question was whether he could raise his arm and throw without significant pain, and he did it during batting practice earlier today.

He has released the one that has Delmon Young in it. He’s batting third if his left oblique (the injury actually is closer to his rib cage) allows him to go. The other lineup has Andy Dirks starting in left field if Delmon can’t start.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Ryan Raburn, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Max Scherzer

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Josh Hamilton, CF
  4. Michael Young, DH
  5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  6. Mike Napoli, C
  7. Nelson Cruz, RF
  8. David Murphy, LF
  9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

P: Mitch Moreland

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