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.