Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde knew he wasn’t sharp yesterday. After issuing a lead-off walk to Kosuke Fukudome, who represented the tying run, Valverde plunked Jason Donald with an 0-2 pitch and all of a sudden, the Cleveland Indians had a great chance to finish off their comeback.
The Tribe fell behind 7-0 after just three innings when Ubaldo Jimenez allowed a pair of home runs in the third. The Indians came right back and knocked Tigers starter Rick Porcello out of the game with a five spot in their half of the fourth. What followed was a war of attrition that saw Cleveland trim Detroit’s lead down to a single run while the Indians’ bullpen held Detroit off the board.
By the time Valverde entered for the ninth, the Tigers had given away three outs on the bases, including two at third, and had lost their manager. Detroit used three pitchers in the fifth inning alone and you had the feeling that this was one the Tigers were going to let slip away. That feeling was magnified by the rough start that greeted Valverde in the final inning.
A successful sacrifice moved the runners up to second and third with only one out. In truth, the Indians may have cost themselves by putting on the bunt. Valverde fell behind Jack Hannahan 3-1, missing badly with fastballs. The way he was going, the odds that Valverde would have wound up walking the Cleveland third baseman was fairly high.
Pinch-hitter Matt LaPorta was summoned to drive home the tying run. All he needed was a medium depth fly ball to score Fukudome, who has good speed. But LaPorta was jammed by a fastball that ran in on him and caught the pitch off the label. The result was a shallow fly to centerfield. Austin Jackson charged hard and got behind the ball. Upon the catch, he released what could only be described as a perfect throw; tow steps up the line towards third, but in time to nail Fukudome at the plate.
The box score will show that Valverde recorded the save, but in a game the Tigers spent six innings trying to lose, it was Jackson that truly saved the game. “On that play right there, I’ve had that play a couple times this year and I didn’t get it all the way in the air,” Jackson said. “But on that one, I was able to get some air on it.”
“This really wasn’t my day — my pitches were going all over the place,” Valverde said after the game. “That was the hardest save of my career.”
The result of Jackson’s game-saving throw was a sweep of the visiting Tribe and a four-and-a-half game lead in the division. By nailing the runner at the plate, Jackson gave the Tigers what amounted to a two-game swing in the standings, as a loss would have resulted in Cleveland being just two-and-a-half out. More than that, perhaps, the throw helped the Tigers avoid what would have been one of the more crushing losses in recent memory.
If the Tigers hold on and this division is decided by one game, this was a game you can look back upon and count as one the Tigers very easily could have lost; perhaps as one they should have lost. Jackson’s throw may not have only saved the game yesterday, he may have also saved the season for the Tigers.