Who needs Jose Valverde?
Well, says manager Jim Leyland, the Detroit Tigers do.
Leyland confirmed the removal of Valverde from his closer's role early Sunday afternoon after two meltdowns in two games, saying Valverde is still the closer -- just not the closer right now.
Then Leyland let lefty Phil Coke get the last six outs of Detroit's 3-0 victory over the New York Yankees that let the Tigers return to Comerica Park with a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I have a temporary, full-time closer, because I do not," Leyland said. "If I have to mix and match for a longer period of time, I'll do that. A committee, whatever you want to call it."
He had Joaquin Benoit warming up at one point and would have brought Octavio Dotel into the game under different circumstances.
However, a New York lineup laden with left-handed batters makes it easy for Leyland to use southpaws Phil Coke, who has pitched in both games, and rookie Drew Smyly, who worked the 11th and 12th innings Saturday night and got the victory.
The Tigers come home knowing Justin Verlander starts for them Tuesday in the third game of the series. Leyland is taking nothing for granted.
He feels things just broke right for the Tigers in the second game and that might not happen again. He wants to be ready.
"Sometimes the game falls in place for a manager, and sometimes it doesn't," he said. "It fell in place with Raul (Ibanez), as hot as he's been, leading off in the ninth inning."
Coke and Benoit were warming up in the seventh. Starter Anibal Sanchez was allowed to pitch to Lance Nix, the replacement for injured Derek Jeter, with two outs and a man on second. If Nix got on, no doubt Coke would have come in to pitch to leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki. Sanchez struck out Nix.
Coke was brought in for the eighth to face the Yankees' lefties and turn the switch hitters over to the right side. He got three straight outs, and that meant Ibanez would lead off the ninth. Coke struck him out.
"We know how dangerous Russell Martin can be," Leyland said. "The numbers said he hasn't hit lefties that great, so we get one more out there. It just worked out."
After Martin struck out, Alex Rodriguez hit a two-out single, but Coke fanned Curtis Granderson to earn the save.
"I want to reiterate a little bit of what I said this morning," Leyland said. "Jose Valverde will be a important part of this club in this playoff -- or we're going to have a real tough time.
"I also said I understand the situation. Trust me. I hope the people back home are not too short-minded because this guy's been fantastic and he's going to be an important piece in this whole scenario yet in my opinion. You're going to need him. He's going to have to get a tough out for you at some point. (This time) it went fine. We were really lucky."
It would not be surprising to see Leyland let Valverde get his mental edge back, work on a couple of things pitching coach Jeff Jones wants him to try and then get a short test to see if his control and confidence are back. Passing those tests would put him back in the closer role.