Tigers stunned as Valverde suffers career low

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Tigers stunned as Valverde suffers career low

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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.

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead his long-suffering team to the 2015 World Series title, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.

With the fitting nickname of "Ace," Ventura burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.

Not surprisingly, he quickly became a fan favorite as Kansas City embraced baseball once again.

"Our prayers right now are with Yordano's family as we mourn this young man's passing," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura," players union executive Tony Clark said. "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Ventura is the second young pitching star to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was among three men killed in a boating accident in late September, when the 24-year-old pitcher's boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours.

Ventura went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts, though the Royals would ultimately lose in seven games.

In an eerie coincidence, Ventura paid tribute to his friend and countryman, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, with a handwritten message on his cap during Game 6. Taveras also was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, and his funeral occurred just hours before Ventura stepped on the mound.

The following year, now firmly entrenched in the rotation, Ventura helped lead Kansas City back to the World Series, pitching well in two starts against Toronto in the AL championship Series. The Royals went on to beat the New York Mets in five games to win their second championship.

Not surprisingly, the Royals moved quickly to sign their burgeoning young ace to a five-year contract through the 2019 season that included two more options that could have kept him in Kansas City.

He wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura represented a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when Ventura heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential in his rapid rise. He made his big league debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League — rare heights the organization had not experienced in decades.

Hosmer took to Twitter upon hearing the news of Ventura's death, saying: "I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say. I love you ACE."

Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Reports: Ex-A's catcher Suzuki agrees to deal with NL East team

Reports: Ex-A's catcher Suzuki agrees to deal with NL East team

Kurt Suzuki is headed back to the National League.

After three seasons in the American League with the Twins, the former A's backstop has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Braves.

News of the agreement was first reported by SB Nation.

Suzuki will reportedly make $1.5 million, according to Fox Sports. He has a chance to make an addition $2.5 million in incentives.

The 33-year-old Suzuki was drafted by the A's in the second round of 2004 MLB Draft. He made his debut with Oakland in 2007 and was the starting catcher until a 2012 trade to Washington. A year later, the Nationals traded Suzuki back to the A's for the final five weeks of the season.

Prior to the 2014 season, Suzuki signed with Twins. In three seasons with Minnesota, Suzuki hit .263/.316/.364 with 75 doubles, 16 home runs and 160 RBI.

Suzuki will likely serve as a back-up to catcher Tyler Flowers.