From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Jose Valverde sat at his locker in disbelief, head down and elbows on his knees. His Tigers teammates ate in stunned silence.Valverde, Detroit's demonstrative closer who saved all 49 of his chances last year, blew the save with his team on the cusp of a second straight trip to the AL championship series and the Oakland Athletics rallied once more to force a Game 5 in their AL division series with a 4-3 win Wednesday night."We all have his back," catcher Gerald Laird said of Valverde. "There's not one guy we blame on this team."Coco Crisp lined a game-ending single to right field with two outs in the ninth as the A's found one more furious rally to stay alive for another day.Valverde called it the toughest moment yet in his stellar career. The 34-year-old pitcher is wrapping up his three-year contract with the Tigers.After Josh Reddick hit a leadoff single and Josh Donaldson doubled, Valverde surrendered a game-tying two-run double to Seth Smith and later Crisp's big hit."I threw all my pitches," Valverde said. "You've got to give credit to the guys over there. You make one mistake, that's it. There's nothing I can do. It's over."Al Alburquerque patted him on the behind. Justin Verlander, who will pitch the deciding game Thursday night, offered his support of Valverde along with most everyone else in the room."It's extremely hard to hit a baseball," catcher Alex Avila said. "So, the credit's always going to go to the hitters. It has to. He did have a good fastball. That inning they just took advantage of the one or two mistakes Valverde made. He's been here for a while. We know what he's capable of. You've got to forget about, like I'm sure he does. He's got a closer's mentality. He's been doing it for a long time."Valverde has long been manager Jim Leyland's reliable ninth-inning man -- and he so hopes to get the ball again Thursday night. Valverde earned his fourth postseason save in Saturday's 3-1 Game 1 win, then missed a chance to become the franchise's postseason saves leader. He currently shares that distinction with Willie Hernandez and Todd Jones.Leyland found himself defending Valverde a day earlier, saying it would be tough for the hard-throwing right-hander not to go downhill after his remarkable run in 2011."He's our guy, and that's just the way it is," Leyland said afterward. "Certainly I feel comfortable with Jose coming in in that situation. Tonight he just didn't get the job done."Valverde finished sixth in the American League with 35 saves this season, but still leads the AL with 110 saves since the beginning of 2010."When we lose a game like this and I need three outs for my team to clinch, it hurts," Valverde said. "This is the toughest moment in my whole career. I had everything. These guys hit it. There's nothing I can do."Now, the Tigers will turn the ball over to their ace and Game 1 winner to lead them in Game 5. Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, struck out 11 batters in the series opener at Comerica Park."Valverde's been great for us. Those things happen," Verlander said. "Obviously you don't want them to happen on a night like tonight. It did."
The Red Sox have recalled right-hander Joe Kelly from Triple-A Pawtucket, where he had been working out of the bullpen, and optioned right-handed reliever Heath Hembree back to the PawSox.
Kelly, originally in the Red Sox starting rotation this season, was plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness as a starter (8.46 ERA) but has rebounded as a reliever in Pawtucket (no runs allowed in five relief innings with one walk and nine strikeouts).
Hembree (4-0, 2.41) has been hit hard since the All-Star break, including giving up a run on three hits and allowing two inherited runners to score in a five-run seventh inning of an 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night.
Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins . . .
1) David Price isn’t having fun
Boston’s $217 million-dollar arm had another rough outing -- this time against a team that already has 60 losses.
Those are the team’s he’s supposed to dominate.
“It’s been terrible,” Price said on how his season has gone following the loss. “Just awful.”
Price’s mistakes have often been credited to mechanical mishaps this year. Farrell mentioned that following his start in New York, Price spent time working on getting more of a downhill trajectory on his pitches.
But Price doesn’t think his issue is physical.
So it must be mental -- but he doesn’t feel that’s the case either.
“Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those,” Price said when asked which he thought was a factor. “It’s me going out there and making pitches. “
But when it comes down to the barebones, pitching -- much like anything else -- is a physical and mental act.
So when he says it’s neither, that’s almost impossible. It could be both, but it has to be one.
His mind could be racing out on the mound from a manifestation of the issues he’s had throughout the season.
Or it could just be that his fastball isn’t changing planes consistently, like Farrell mentioned.
Both could be possible too, but it takes a certain type of physical approach and mental approach to pitch -- and Price needs to figure out which one is the issue, or how to address both.
2) Sandy Leon might be coming back to Earth
Over his last five games, Boston’s new leading catcher is hitting .176 (3-for-17), dropping his average to .395.
A couple things have to be understood. His average is still impressive. In the five games prior to this dry spell, Leon went 7-for-19 (.368) But -- much like Jackie Bradley Jr. -- Leon hasn’t been known for his offensive output throughout his career. So dry spells are always tests of how he can respond to adversity and make necessary adjustments quickly.
Furthermore, if he’s not so much falling into a funk as opposed to becoming the real Sandy Leon -- what is Boston getting?
Is his run going to be remembered as an exciting run that lasted much longer than anyone expected? Or if he going to show he’s a legitimate hitter that can hit at least -.260 to .280 with a little pop from the bottom of the line-up?
What’s more, if he turns back into the Sandy Leon he’s been throughout his career, the Red Sox will have an interesting dilemma on how to handle the catching situation once again.
3) Heath Hembree has lost the momentum he gained after being called up.
Following Saturday’s contest, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after an outing where he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up a run on three hits -- and allowing some inherited runners to score.
Hembree at one point was the savior of the bullpen, stretching his arm out over three innings at a time to bail out the scuffling Red Sox starting rotation that abused it’s bullpen.
His ERA is still only 2.41 -- and this has been the most he’s ever pitched that big league level -- but the Red Sox have seen a change in him since the All-Star break.
Which makes sense, given that hitters have seven hits and two walks against him in his 1.1 innings of work -- spanning four games since the break.
“He’s not confident pitcher right now,” John Farrell said about Hembree before announcing his demotion. “As good as Heath has been for the vast majority of this year -- and really in the whole first half -- the four times out since the break have been the other side of that.”
Joe Kelly will be the pitcher to replace Hembree and Farrell hopes to be able to stretch him out over multiple innings at a time, as well.
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