From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Jose Valverde sat at his locker in disbelief, head down and elbows on his knees. His Tigers teammates ate in stunned silence.Valverde, Detroit's demonstrative closer who saved all 49 of his chances last year, blew the save with his team on the cusp of a second straight trip to the AL championship series and the Oakland Athletics rallied once more to force a Game 5 in their AL division series with a 4-3 win Wednesday night."We all have his back," catcher Gerald Laird said of Valverde. "There's not one guy we blame on this team."Coco Crisp lined a game-ending single to right field with two outs in the ninth as the A's found one more furious rally to stay alive for another day.Valverde called it the toughest moment yet in his stellar career. The 34-year-old pitcher is wrapping up his three-year contract with the Tigers.After Josh Reddick hit a leadoff single and Josh Donaldson doubled, Valverde surrendered a game-tying two-run double to Seth Smith and later Crisp's big hit."I threw all my pitches," Valverde said. "You've got to give credit to the guys over there. You make one mistake, that's it. There's nothing I can do. It's over."Al Alburquerque patted him on the behind. Justin Verlander, who will pitch the deciding game Thursday night, offered his support of Valverde along with most everyone else in the room."It's extremely hard to hit a baseball," catcher Alex Avila said. "So, the credit's always going to go to the hitters. It has to. He did have a good fastball. That inning they just took advantage of the one or two mistakes Valverde made. He's been here for a while. We know what he's capable of. You've got to forget about, like I'm sure he does. He's got a closer's mentality. He's been doing it for a long time."Valverde has long been manager Jim Leyland's reliable ninth-inning man -- and he so hopes to get the ball again Thursday night. Valverde earned his fourth postseason save in Saturday's 3-1 Game 1 win, then missed a chance to become the franchise's postseason saves leader. He currently shares that distinction with Willie Hernandez and Todd Jones.Leyland found himself defending Valverde a day earlier, saying it would be tough for the hard-throwing right-hander not to go downhill after his remarkable run in 2011."He's our guy, and that's just the way it is," Leyland said afterward. "Certainly I feel comfortable with Jose coming in in that situation. Tonight he just didn't get the job done."Valverde finished sixth in the American League with 35 saves this season, but still leads the AL with 110 saves since the beginning of 2010."When we lose a game like this and I need three outs for my team to clinch, it hurts," Valverde said. "This is the toughest moment in my whole career. I had everything. These guys hit it. There's nothing I can do."Now, the Tigers will turn the ball over to their ace and Game 1 winner to lead them in Game 5. Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, struck out 11 batters in the series opener at Comerica Park."Valverde's been great for us. Those things happen," Verlander said. "Obviously you don't want them to happen on a night like tonight. It did."
Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.
- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch
[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.
But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving.
We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory.
The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win.
It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight.
This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat.
Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn.
Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game.
“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”
Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA.
The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season.
These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.