Valverde folds in Tigers' loss to Orioles

Victory disappeared high and deep into the grandstands in right-center at Camden Yards

Victory disappeared high and deep into the grandstands in right-center at Camden Yards. Chris Dickerson, the No. 8 hitter for the Baltimore Orioles, drilled the ball out of sight for a three-run homer off Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde for a 7-5 comeback win.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew it was gone the instant the ball took flight Friday night. He scratched his arm and turned away, walking down the dugout steps to the clubhouse.

“He got his pitch over the plate and up,” Leyland told FOX Sports Detroit’s Ryan Field minutes later.

And that’s what happens when a pitcher becomes predictable and can’t locate a mediocre fastball.

Valverde threw only two split-finger fastballs, and both were to leadoff hitter Nick Markakis. He hit the second one over the fence. Though, it appeared that right fielder Avisail Garcia tipped it with his glove in an attempt to make a leaping catch.

The next five batters saw nothing but fastballs — each one between 91 and 93 mph and some with the same dangerous location that Dickerson didn’t let Valverde survive.

That is two blown saves in eight tries for Valverde, who lost the closer role he’d held for three years in last season’s playoffs. And for one night, it seemed like last October again, with Valverde ripe to fail.

Still, Valverde entered the game in Baltimore with a 0.75 ERA, 0.583 WHIP and 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. Those are numbers to crow about, and Valverde had earned some tough saves against the heart of the batting order of the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates on the last home stand.

When Valverde closed out the opener of the Pittsburgh series on Memorial Day, Leyland was asked the next day about his closer.

“Knock on wood — it’s worked pretty good so far,” Leyland said. “When you call him, you know he’s not afraid and you know he’s done it before. That’s a big help for us — a big, big help.”

Leyland has continually complimented what Valverde — who had 110 saves the last three seasons — has done in the past and the productivity he’s shown early this season. But I’ve sensed that the manager has held back from heaping unabashed praise on Valverde for two reasons.

Managers tend to do that unless players are performing at All-Star Game selection levels for several months. They want their players to avoid getting too high or low from performances, and temper comments. But, in this case, I also think that Valverde has yet to show that he’s the Valverde of 2010 and 2011 — the season when he was perfect in 49 save opportunities. His numbers have been great, but his stuff has not been.

It’s true that the splitter was not as important to Valverde in 2011 as it was in 2010. But he located better two years ago, and also threw harder with a sometimes wicked sinker.

He’s usually thrown a few miles per hour higher this season than he did Friday night. But it’s clear that there’s little room for error as a one-pitch pitcher. And Tigers fans have to wonder if there’s more ninth-inning disappointment to come.

“One thing he’s good at is turning the page,” Leyland said of Valverde. “Hopefully, he’ll turn the page, and tomorrow we’ll be in a situation where we can use him.”

Valverde walked slowly off the mound, cap and mitt in hand. It was the first walk-off homer he’d surrendered in four seasons with Detroit.

“When you have a tough day like today,” Valverde told reporters, “there’s nothing you can do…I throw this away and will be back tomorrow.

“I feel bad for Maxie; he threw a good game.”  

Tigers starter Max Scherzer walked off the mound with a 5-3 lead after eight innings, having retired 16 consecutive Orioles in the band box that is Camden Yards. And his shot at an 8-0 record — something no Tiger pitcher has matched since Jeremy Bonderman started with that mark in 2007 — went up in smoke.

“It’s always frustrating,” Scherzer told reporters. “You could see the finish line in front of you.”

There is nothing more demoralizing for a team than giving up a lead in the ninth and losing. And, coming off a walk-off, 11-inning loss Thursday in Pittsburgh, the Tigers once again will depend on Justin Verlander to be the stopper to a four-game losing streak.

The team, like their closer, needs to turn the page with a win.