Valverde's error opens floodgates in extras

Valverde's error opens floodgates in extras

Valverde's error opens floodgates in extras
DETROIT -- Hours after Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked about his team badly needing a right-handed hitter, the reason behind recalling Ryan Raburn from Triple-A Toledo, they got their share of runs off Rockies lefty Jeff Francis. They didn't get enough, considering it was the Colorado bullpen that gave them fits.

The same could not be said of the Tigers bullpen once closer Jose Valverde entered in the 10th inning. By the time back-to-back home runs from Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer off Luis Marte all but sealed the Tigers' 12-4 loss Friday night, the back-and-forth battle that preceded the eight-run 10th was unrecognizable.

"It's a funny game. It was a great game for nine innings," Leyland said.

Once Wilin Rosario's chopper bounced over shortstop Jhonny Peralta's glove and into left field to score two runs, Leyland said, "Really, all heck broke loose."

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The one identifiable piece left from the previously tied game was the throwing error on Valverde, whose high-arcing toss to first on Eric Young's sacrifice bunt carried Prince Fielder off the bag. Ironically, it was the only truly wild throw Valverde had all night. The miscue meant that only one of the six runs off Valverde (3-2) were earned.

One was all they needed, the way the Rockies' bullpen shut down Detroit's batters. The rest left little doubt.

By the time Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt finished off the bottom of the 10th in a non-save situation, the chances Detroit had to win it were distant memories. After rookie catcher Bryan Holaday had singled and scored to tie the game in the sixth, the Tigers had the bases loaded on walks and Delmon Young fouling off pitches from Rockies lefty Rex Brothers to keep it alive.

Young battled for nine pitches before chasing a pitch in the dirt to end the threat. Brothers, Matt Belisle (3-2) and Betancourt held Detroit to only one baserunner the rest of the way, retiring 13 of the final 14 Tigers.

Detroit did the same until Valverde.

"They did a great job," Leyland said. "So did our guys. [Duane] Below, [Brayan] Villarreal, [Phil] Coke and [Joaquin] Benoit all did pretty darn good, and their guys did pretty good. That happens. Valverde's been fantastic lately, absolutely fantastic. But we didn't score. We just didn't score enough runs. We're supposed to score more runs than that."

Leyland has mentioned that before. Against left-handed starting pitchers, though, it seems to have particular poignance.

It wasn't long ago that the Tigers would pummel lefties with a lineup that featured Miguel Cabrera batting behind Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen in the mix when healthy, and other right-handed hitters sprinkled in. They spent several years, in fact, looking for productive left-handed hitters to balance out the order.

They have their balance, able to alternate left- and right-handed batters throughout a lineup. However, while they're 23-22 in games started by right-handed pitchers, they're now 7-12 against lefty starters, including 2-5 at home.

The Tigers arguably have their right-handed hitters. Right now, though, they're struggling to get big hits out of the ones behind their All-Stars.

Francis posted a 2.31 ERA against the Tigers in three starts last year in his lone season with the Royals, so he knew how to approach them. A three-run third inning accounted for the bulk of Detroit's runs, with RBI doubles from Austin Jackson and Cabrera ahead of Fielder's run-scoring single.

Back-to-back groundouts from Young and Peralta ended it there. Raburn's double leading off the next inning went unrewarded once Francis worked Holaday into a groundout to third and then, after walking Jackson, getting a called third strike on Brennan Boesch.

"They had some people out there and they're going to have some people out there," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said, "because they're a very solid offensive club."

Holaday did more than his share, with two hits and two runs. His one-out single on an 0-2 pitch in the sixth was the hit that chased Francis from the game. Once a wild pitch and Boesch's groundout scored a run to tie the game again, Francis' line was complete at four runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Essentially, Francis and Tigers rookie lefty Casey Crosby dueled to a draw. With Crosby's fourth-inning exit, though, the Tigers' bullpen had more innings to cover. They did their part until the 10th.

Valverde has struggled in the past with tie games in extra innings. And if Leyland had Octavio Dotel or another experienced arm available, he said, he might have used him there. But the way the Tigers bullpen is right now, it was either Valverde or rookies Marte or Luke Putkonen.

"Valverde's been fantastic lately, absolutely fantastic," Leyland said.

It wasn't command that undid the closer. All three hits he allowed came with two strikes, including Rosario's go-ahead single on an 0-2 pitch and Marco Scutaro's RBI single on the same count to chase him.

Once Gonzalez sent Marte's pitch deep to right, the close battle was hard to see.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.