For one day during his perfect pitching season, Tigers closer Jose Valverde became a catcher. He caught a face full of whipped cream pies from teammates when he set the team record with his 43rd save Sept. 11 and he caught huge payback for smashing so many other Tiger faces with pies all year.
Subtlety is not Valverde's game. He is a huge, buoyant prankster in the clubhouse and a demonstrative figure on the mound. He had plenty of opportunities to celebrate, too, having secured 49 saves in 49 chances. His success was so striking that some people have compared him to a certain other closer who will be in this American League Division Series.
It would be hard to find two more different personalities than Valverde and Mariano Rivera, although Valverde does not quite see it that way. "The different thing is the other stuff," he said at Yankee Stadium Thursday. "After that, I think it's the same. We do the same job."
That is sort of like saying that the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper (reportedly 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce) and the cucumber are both vegetables. Truth is, this series provides a study in contrasts between closers.
"They're completely different people," said Tigers reliever Phil Coke, a former Yankee. "Valverde is very exuberant and Mariano is very -- I don't want to say it because it sounds almost negative -- stoic."
If nothing else, it shows that there is more than one way to get a job done. During a season in which Rivera set the all-time saves record, Valverde was flawless. He got his due recognition.
"Forty-nine for 49," he told reporters Thursday. "I thank you guys and I thank God. I think this is a hard part of baseball. I did it this year, maybe some guy will do it next year."
It is no act for the 33-year-old from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. "I enjoy every moment,'' he said. "I enjoy it in the field, I enjoy it in the clubhouse. This is what I do, this is my job. The Tigers brought me here to do it."
At home in the offseason, he is not the life of the party. He said he likes to stay at his home, which is five minutes from that of Robinson Cano, whom he describes as a good friend. But if he strikes out Cano in a big situation this weekend, Valverde will not back off from celebrating.
"If I struck out my father, my brother," he said, "I'd do the same."