DETROIT — Two excellent American League teams, clubs that could meet in October, decided on the day they played one another in the first game of a four-game series that they were making a change from their closers.
Before the game, Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland decided that Joaquin Benoit would replace the struggling Jose Valverde. Sort of.
“I’m not naming anybody closer,” Leyland said. “I’m just saying that if Benoit’s available right now, I would probably try to close with him, if he’s fresh and available.”
And after Andrew Bailey served up a walkoff two-run homer to Jhonny Peralta to ruin yet another strong starting performance by one of his teammates — this time John Lackey — Red Sox manager John Farrell said that he would be making a change.
“Yeah, I think so,” Farrell said. “Whether that’s backing him out of that [role] to get him some work to get untracked a little bit more . . . [and to discuss] what the other internal options are. In fairness to Andrew and others down there late in the game, we’ll talk about that more internally to make a potential change.”
“I haven’t talked to [Farrell] about that,’’ said Bailey. “If he feels that need is necessary, then that’s his decision. I have to go out there and get people out, that’s the bottom line. Whatever the situation, if he wants that, that’s his call. Like I said last time, I’ve had success in this league. I know how to get people out. I just have to get back to doing it.”
It hasn’t been pretty at all. On Tuesday, Felix Doubront pitched an eight-inning gem against Tampa Bay, only to have Bailey serve up a game-tying home run in a game the Red Sox eventually won to bail out Bailey. That wasn’t the case Thursday night.
Again, you could argue the starter, Lackey, was yanked prematurely after seven innings and 98 pitches. But Farrell has to find out if his closer can protect a one-run lead, doesn’t he? Twice now the answer has been no.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bailey said. “Your starting pitcher goes out there against a great offense and pitches a hell of a game and it’s very frustrating. You walk the first guy [Victor Martinez] on a pitch like that. Once again, I have to make better pitches. Just find a way to grind through it. Everything feels good, just missing spots and have to keep grinding through it.”
The ball to Peralta on a 1-and-2 count caught way too much of the plate and hung up in the zone a little too long.
But the walk to Martinez was a killer.
“Any time there’s a save opportunity, it’s a cardinal rule that you can’t let the first guy reach base, let alone the tying run,’’ said Bailey. “Just not being myself out there and I have to pitch better.”
He got up two strikes on Peralta before his mistake.
“I felt good,’’ Bailey said. “I had him set up, but I didn’t execute the right pitch. That’s what happens when you’re ahead on the count and you leave one over the plate. The way Lackey threw the ball tonight he deserved a better outcome, for sure.”
All Bailey would say about his velocity, which used to get to 94-96 miles per hour but is now 2-3 miles per hour slower is, “There’s peaks and valleys in this game with velocity and outings. Right now, I have a little bit of both going and I’ll come out of it. We have a great team here. I just have to get back to doing my job. I feel great [physically]. I feel I have the same mentality. I didn’t challenge the first batter of the inning. Maybe I was picking too much. I’ve got to get back to challenging guys. Clearly what I’m doing right now isn’t working.”
Farrell agreed that “the velocity hasn’t come back pre- the DL stint. There’s work being done through long-toss program through the work he does with strength and medical staff here. He doesn’t complain of any inflammation or uncomfortable feeling in the shoulder. And yet, the results are what they are.”
The situations involving the Tigers and the Red Sox may be similar, but how they got there is different.
The Tigers have been stubborn in not addressing the situation.
They came into the season feeling rookie Bruce Rondon could do the job, and they found out early he wasn’t ready. They went to a bullpen by committee, then re-signed Valverde, who gave them a temporary boost, but overall he’s been terrible. Now they go to Benoit, their setup man.
The Red Sox addressed the issue in the offseason when general manager Ben Cherington acquired Joel Hanrahan in a deal with the Pirates. Bailey had returned last August from thumb surgery and just didn’t look good the rest of the season, prompting Cherington to take action.
Hanrahan had Tommy John surgery in May and is lost for the season.
Like the Tigers, there aren’t many internal options. Veteran Koji Uehara has the stuff to do it, but the Sox are wary of his age and durability. Junichi Tazawa could take the role again, as he did when both Hanrahan and Bailey were on the disabled list.
They could get bold and go with Andrew Miller, who is throwing more strikes and is now effective vs. righthanded hitters (.149, 7 for 47) and can be dominating with his 97-m.p.h. fastball.
Cherington likely will be looking for help outside the organization, too.
Jonathan Papelbon could be a possibility, but the Sox would have to take on a contract they weren’t willing to offer when they let him go to the Phillies. They also would have to give up prospects. The Marlins’ Steve Cishek, a Falmouth, Mass., native, is another closer who may be available. Cishek is 10 for 12 in save opportunities with a 1.13 WHIP.
The Red Sox could also monitor the comebacking Brian Wilson (Tommy John surgery) and see if the former Giants closer could be the answer.
Ryan Dempster has also been a closer. He saved 33, 24, and 28 games for the Cubs from 2005-07. Would the Sox consider moving Dempster to closer and finding another starter?
At some point these two good teams have to figure this out. The Tigers’ bullpen is 4-13.
“Nothing can demoralize a team more than losing games at the end when your team has gained the lead,” said John Smoltz, who had a super career as a closer and a starter for the Braves.
The Red Sox clubhouse was drop-dead silent after the game. Jon Lester came over to give Bailey a pat on the back. Lackey spoke in sympathetic terms of his closer. But the silence spoke volumes on a night when Bailey snatched defeat from victory.