Athletics

Tigers stunned as Valverde suffers career low

911999.jpg

Tigers stunned as Valverde suffers career low

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- Jose Valverde appeared in his 597th career MLB game Wednesday night -- postseason included -- and the charismatic closer turned in an outing he won't ever forget.

Sitting with his head down in front of his locker after his blown saveloss left the Tigers wondering what hit them, Valverde was the recipient of a few knowing pats on the back from manager Jim Leyland before he rose to face the media ... and the music.

"That was the toughest outing of my career," Valverde owned up. His words were quiet, but they were easy to make out in the silent Tigers clubhouse penetrated by the wild cheers of Oakland's sellout crowd lingering in the Coliseum stands above.

Indeed, security guards had to quell boisterous A's fans as they left the prime seats behind home plate and streamed past the Tigers clubhouse shouting.

Valverde was called upon to hammer in the final three nails in the A's 2012 coffin, but Josh Reddick, Josh Donaldson, Seth Smith and two outs later Coco Crisp ensured the 2012 ALDS saw a decisive Game 5 by manufacturing three runs on two singles and two doubles in the bottom of the ninth.

By the time the closer threw his first non-fastball 10 pitches into the ninth inning, the game was tied and the A's had the winning run in scoring position. A steady diet of 90- to 93-mph fastballs was met by Oakland barrels, but Valverde, who throws his fastball 82.4 percent of the time and averages 93.2 miles per hour, wouldn't do anything differently.

"I think my pitches were good," Valverde said. "Maybe one mistake."

His catcher saw things differently.

"He had a really good fastball," Alex Avila said from the opposite end of the Tigers locker room. "A couple leaked over the middle."

Like the ones Donaldson and Smith sprayed to the left- and right-center field gaps for the two biggest hits of the game?

"Those were the key mistakes," Avila confirmed. "Fastballs that leaked out over the plate."

Leyland offered the final word on Valverde's outing: "He probably didn't get the ball located where he wanted to. Tonight he just didn't get the job done."

The one positive the Tigers can fall back on is that they'll have reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander on the mound in Game 5.

"It definitely gives us a lot of confidence, just 'cause Justin is our guy," Prince Fielder said in a tone that indicated he might be lying. "So we'll see what happens."

Fielder recorded his first hit in 24 Oakland Coliseum at-bats this season, a fourth-inning unrobbable blast to right. It represented the first run of the series knocked in by the heart of the Tigers order. Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, who combined for 74 home runs and 247 RBIs during the regular season, are now 8-for-32 on the series with the lone home run and a Game 2 run scored by Cabrera in terms of production.

"It's tough. We were real close to closing out the series there," starting pitcher Max Scherzer said after doing everything he could to put the Tigers in position to do so. "Credit to their hitters. They have no quit in them.

"We're in a one-game playoff now and anything can happen. This is a hostile place right now."

Scherzer wore the maelstrom of Green and Gold support from the announced sellout crowd of 36,385 like a badge as he carved through the first five innings, striking out eight Athletics along the way.

He stuck around in the dugout waiting for the celebration only to watch his team crumble in the ninth. He had little encouragement to offer his teammates.

"There's not much you can say," Scherzer said, talking specifically about Valverde.

"He's a veteran," Avila said. "He's a professional, he's been through it before."

Except that he hasn't. Not like this, anyway, and admittedly so. Despite faltering on the biggest of stages, the Tigers aren't making any late-inning adjustments.

"He's our guy and that's just the way it is," Leyland said.

There is no escaping the failure the A's forced on Valverde, and the world will be watching and judging the closer's every move to see if he allows doubt to creep into his body language and psyche. With the guidance of his veteran manager, Valverde just might be able to put it behind him. The closer is thankful to have a man like Leyland at the helm, a man who has ushered seven of his 21 MLB squads into the postseason.

"I think everyone should have a manager like Leyland," Valverde said. "I've never played for a manager like this in my life."

A's manager Bob Melvin also played for Leyland, when he was drafted by the Tigers in 1981. Every day Melvin seems more like a lock for the AL Manager of the Year, and he has a chance Thursday to out-coach his former preceptor in a winner-take-all Game 5 at 6 p.m. at the Oakland Coliseum.

Maybe Valverde forgot his three years with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2005-2007 when he played for Bob Melvin. The Tigers are hoping just as soon he'll forget his 2012 outing on Oct. 10 against Melvin's squad, but you don't easily forget your most trying professional moment.

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

marcell-ozuna-marlins-ap.jpg
AP

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

While expressing his happiness to be with his new team, Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna took a swipe at the A’s during a media function in St. Louis on Sunday.

Ozuna’s name, you’ll remember, swirled in trade rumors earlier this offseason that he might be dealt from the Miami Marlins to Oakland. Instead, the two-time All-Star was traded to St. Louis, making him one of several big-name players Miami has shipped off as it looks to slash payroll.

While attending the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up event to preview this season, Ozuna was asked what it was like being dealt to a team that’s more focused on winning right away as opposed to the rebuilding Marlins.

“I feel happy about that,” Ozuna responded. “First thing when I heard they were trying to trade me to the Oakland A’s, I say … (long pause) Well, I say ‘God, please leave me over here.’ Then I heard they trade me to the Cardinals, I say ‘OK, thanks.’”

Ouch.

Well, it’s not the first time such an insult has been hurled the A’s way, whether directly or indirectly. Last winter, it came out that Matt Holliday — who spent part of 2009 with Oakland — had a no-trade clause included in his contract with the Yankees that prohibited him from being traded only to the A’s.

Is it surprising to hear Ozuna volunteer his thoughts about the A’s in a public forum? Perhaps.

Is it a shock that he’d feel that way in the first place? Definitely not.

It’s no secret the A’s reputation is one of a team that’s always looking to trade its best veteran players rather than spend the money to sign them long term. It’s also common knowledge that they play in an outdated ballpark that’s considered the worst in the majors.

No question, those are the dominant thoughts of players on the other 29 teams when they think of the A’s. And there’s no quick fix to that. National perception is tough to alter.

“Why doesn’t ownership just start spending more money on payroll?” you might ask. “That’s the best way to change perception.”

No arguments there, but we know from the past that isn’t going to happen. Clearly, majority owner John Fisher isn’t going to spend more freely on payroll — especially with the A’s being cut off from MLB’s revenue sharing system — unless he sees the potential for other forms of revenue to stream in.

It all points back to the critical need for the A’s to identify a ballpark site and begin construction on a new home. That will send a message around the majors that a plan is in motion, that better days are ahead.

Until then, the A’s can expect to absorb the occasional jab like that delivered by Ozuna. On the bright side for Oakland fans, they might have just identified Public Enemy No. 2, a player who can slot in right behind Holliday as their favorite opponent to vilify.

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

khris-davis-funnylook-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

The A’s took care of a big piece of business with their top run producer, signing slugger Khris Davis to a one-year contract Wednesday and avoiding arbitration.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the sides settled on a $10.5 million salary. That’s more than double the $5 million Davis made last season in his first trip through the arbitration process, but a huge raise was expected after Davis put up more monster numbers in his second year with Oakland.

His 43 home runs in 2017 ranked second in the American League and he was third in RBI with 110. Consider that Davis is the only major leaguer to crack the 40-homer mark in each of the past two seasons, and only Giancarlo Stanton has more total homers during that span (86 to Davis’ 85).

That obviously makes the 30-year-old Davis a valuable commodity.

“Back to back 40-homer years in this ballpark. You guys don’t talk about it enough,” A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane said in October. “When we acquired him (in a trade from Milwaukee) we knew we got a guy with a lot of power. I think we were thinking a 30-homer guy. The fact he’s gone 40 back-to-back is pretty amazing. He fits in perfectly here. I think having that big bat that Khris brings helps guys like (Matt) Olson and (Matt) Chapman.”

So it’s clear the A’s value Davis, and that’s why he hasn’t been traded thus far, as many around the game speculated he might be this winter. But where do things go moving forward?

He’ll be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before he’s able to test free agency heading into the 2020 season. If you’re an A’s fan, you know where this is going. If July hits and the A’s are floundering in the standings, Davis no doubt will be a trade candidate. He’d have appeal as a proven slugger who would remain under team control for 2019.

But Davis is a rare breed. He loves playing in Oakland and doesn’t hide that fact. The pitcher-friendly Coliseum has done nothing to suppress his power. In fact, he’s thrived. His 26 home runs at the Coliseum in 2017 fell one short of Jason Giambi’s Oakland record for homers by a home player.

It would seem he’d be open to a long-term extension, and the sides reportedly have held past discussions about one. The A’s have designs on signing some of their younger core players to extensions. But you’d have to rank it as a surprise were they to actually complete an extension with Davis, given the money he would command.

More than likely, Beane and his staff will evaluate the team through the first half of the upcoming season, weigh the pros and cons of dealing him, and if he stays, enter through this arbitration process again next winter, knowing that he’ll command even more bucks on another one-year deal.

An ‘X’ factor is how Davis adjusts to his shift from left field to designated hitter. He told NBC Sports California in November that he prefers the outfield but will fill whatever role is best for the team.

The feeling here is that he’ll put up the same numbers that fans have grown accustomed to, and the ball will be in the A’s court as to how long he remains in green and gold.