Vindicated Valverde, Tigers relish win

Jose Valverde #46 and Alex Avila #13 of Jose Valverde #46 and Alex Avila #13 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after defeating the New York Yankees. (Oct. 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Jose Valverde did have it right, as it turned out. His timing was just a little off. The whimsically flamboyant Tigers closer, who had perhaps jokingly said last Sunday that the series was over, made sure it was over in the ninth inning last night.

His inning, three up, three down, was as perfect as his year had been -- 49 saves in 49 tries. Come to think of it, his timing really was just right.

"You know what? I think that was the first time this year I went one-two-three," Valverde said in the clubhouse afterward, his eyes red with the sting from champagne, and possibly with emotion as well.

That he had been bold enough to joke about having put the Yankees away when the Tigers left with a 1-1 split last weekend turned out not to be overly brash, it was just an expression of how loose and confident that the Tigers were -- an attitude that helped them pull through a 3-2 win on the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium and a 3-2 ALDS win.

It is not every day that a visitor takes a winner-take-all finale in the Bronx. The 2004 Red Sox did it, the 1957 Braves did it. But in between, it was quite dry. "We were confident," Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera said. "We won here before."

Still, it was special. "The Yankees are so good, I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me extra satisfaction to do it here the fifth game," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't mean that disrespectfully, I mean that respectfully.

"This will be a game I'll remember the rest of my life," said Leyland, who made all the right moves, including starting Don Kelly at third base and in the No. 2 batting position. Kelly hit a home run in the first that sent the Tigers on their way. Before the game -- just after Leyland interrupted an interview on the field by saying he tries to protect his stars -- Kelly said of the daunting task of playing a climactic game in Yankee Stadium: "We have played well here. There are a bunch of places that are fun places to play, and this is definitely one of them."

Leyland choked up a little when he spoke of what a night it was for Kelly who is, of course, far from being a star. The manager said that players such as Cabrera have had big moments before and will have more, but he added, "This is one Donnie Kelly will have forever. This was a special moment."

It was a scary moment, too, with the short rightfield porch beckoning Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez as they faced Valverde in the ninth. The closer retired all of them.

"I was nervous and everything, but I just did my job," Valverde said, soaked with champagne sprayed by Tigers ace Justin Verlander. "We have a better team right now. I just thank God. Good hitting, good pitchers, you know what I mean?"

This time, he definitely wasn't kidding, and anyone listening knew exactly what he meant.

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