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Phil Coke has found a home relieving for Tigers

Detroit Tigers pitcher Phil Coke reacts when being

Detroit Tigers pitcher Phil Coke reacts when being asked about his 3-2 pitch to Yankees batter Raul Ibanez during a press conference before Game 4 of the ALCS. (Oct. 17, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

DETROIT -- In the last four years, Phil Coke has gone from Yankee reliever to Tigers reliever to Tigers starter to Tigers reliever (again) to Tigers fill-in closer in the ALCS.

Coke, who won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009, saved Game 2 and 3 of the ALCS after closer Jose Valverde imploded in the ninth inning of Game 1.

In Game 2, Coke pitched two scoreless innings in the Tigers' 3-0 win. In Game 3, the 30-year-old lefthander replaced Justin Verlander with one out and no one on in the ninth inning and the Tigers holding a 2-1 lead.

Coke, who had one save in three chances in the regular season and six in his big-league career, retired Ichiro Suzuki on a grounder before allowing singles to Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

Raul Ibañez was next. With righthander Joaquin Benoit warming in the bullpen, Yankees' manager Joe Girardi declined to send up the benched Alex Rodriguez as a pinch hitter.

Coke fell behind Ibañez 3-and-1 before the Yankees' DH fouled two off. All six pitches were fastballs between 94 and 96 miles per hour.

Coke next fired an 81-mph offspeed pitch. Ibañez swung through it to end the game and give the Tigers a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Asked Wednesday what he was thinking as he threw the pitch, Coke said: "Don't hit it, don't hit it, don't hit it, don't hit it. I actually had no thoughts whatsoever outside of locking on my target and letting it go. There was no 'please break.' There's no prayer in between bringing my hand out of my glove and releasing the ball. Nothing like that.

"It was just here it is, boom, and it came out of my hand really nice. And he put a huge swing on it and didn't hit it, which was even more nice. And the game ended in that fashion, which made it really, really sweet."

Coke, you can see, is an excitable sort, just as he was when he was a Yankee from 2008-09.

"I don't have any idea what's going on," Coke said. "I just know I'm having a good time."

Coke was traded to the Tigers after the 2009 season as part of a three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and pitcher Ian Kennedy, among others, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Tigers also received pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth and centerfielder Austin Jackson in the deal. Scherzer was scheduled to start Wednesday night's game before it was postponed.

"It seems that each team has benefitted greatly by the trade that was made," Coke said. "So I don't see there being anybody getting the short straw."

Coke has actually struggled to find a niche with the Tigers. They tried to convert him into a starter in 2011, but abandoned the idea after 14 outings. He finished the season 3-9 with a career-high 4.47 ERA.

This year, used exclusively in relief, Coke went 2-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 66 games. He had one save, on June 19 vs. St. Louis. Now he has two more.

New York Sports