Can the Tigers recover from this loss?

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Can the Tigers recover from this loss?

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."

Another burner for Brady: Kraft compares Cooks to Moss

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Another burner for Brady: Kraft compares Cooks to Moss

PHOENIX -- For an indication of just how high the expectations sit for newly-acquired Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks, have a look at what team owner Robert Kraft said during the annual league meetings at the Biltmore on Monday. 

Asked about all the moves Bill Belichick and his front office have made this offseason, Kraft started with the former Saints big-play threat.

"I think what they've done is excellent this year," Kraft said. "And I know bringing this young man from New Orleans, I don't know, except since I've owned the team the only player who could make an impact like that at wide receiver is Randy Moss. He doesn't have his height, but he's got his speed. I think that's complementary to what we have on the team. I'm excited about him joining us."

Cooks gives the Patriots one of the most dynamic pass-catching threats in the NFL and should provide an additional boost to an offense that ranked third in the league in points scored (27.6) in 2016. He is one of three players to record 75 catches, 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. The other two? Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.

Those are some big names, but Moss may be the biggest ever associated with Cooks. What Moss did when he arrived to New England in a trade with the Raiders in 2007 was historic, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns. 

As excited as Kraft is for Cooks' arrival, not even he will project a similarly gaudy statistical year. But he's clearly thrilled that Tom Brady will have yet another explosive receiving threat to pair with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and an impressive stable of pass-catching backs.

Kelly's a potential weapon in the Red Sox bullpen

Kelly's a potential weapon in the Red Sox bullpen

Joe Kelly’s ascent to the eighth inning has been pretty darn rapid.

Tyler Thornburg’s questionable right shoulder and the loss of other relievers elsewhere -- remember Koji Uehera, now of the World Champion Cubs? -- have thrown him into the spotlight.

That doesn’t make Kelly anything close to a certainty, though.

Entering spring training, even Craig Kimbrel, one of the very best closers around, faced some doubt after control flare-ups a year ago.

In Kelly, the Sox have an overpowering righty who couldn’t harness his stuff in the past. Someone who conspired with Clay Buchholz in making the Red Sox rotation look dismal midseason.

Kelly’s ineffectiveness last year, in fact, was one of the reasons they traded for Drew Pomeranz on July 14. And, logically, one of the reasons the Red Sox did not want to subsequently rescind the trade for Pomeranz.

The last start Kelly made with the Red Sox (and possibly in his big-league career) was on June 1 against the Orioles. He allowed seven runs in 2 1/3 innings and was immediately demoted.

He didn’t make it back to Boston until late July.

The best reasons to believe in Kelly now, in Thornburg’s absence, are straightforward: he was awesome at the end of last year, and he is overpowering.

In an eye-opening September, he held hitters to a .180 average in 14 innings. He gave up one earned run, carrying a 0.64 ERA, struck out 20 and walked just three.

That’s awesome potential.

He’s always had that, if nothing else, though: potential. What’s to say Kelly lives up to it? He might. There’s just not a lot to hang your hat on.

In eight innings this spring, Kelly has as many walks, seven, as he does strikeouts.

“The point we’re trying to stress to him, no one in this game is perfect,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters Monday, including the Boston Herald. “He doesn’t have to be perfect with every pitch located. He has premium stuff. Trust it, and get ahead in the count a little bit more frequently.”

Early in spring training, Kelly talked about how he was still learning on the job, as you’d expect. That’s going to continue to be the case, and he'll continue to have to prove he's at last arrived.