Valverde defends animated celebrations
Tigers' closer says he doesn't intend to show up opponents
DETROIT -- Jose Valverde has long been known as an animated figure on the mound. The Tigers' closer gets excited when he has a big performance, but he says he isn't trying to show up opponents when he does it -- not even when he strikes out the middle of the Yankees' lineup in order to save a 5-4 victory, as he did on Monday night.
"That's my game," Valverde said on Tuesday. "I have to be on my game. Because all the time, it's normally good if the closer's in the game. We have four games against the Yankees. You don't know how many more times I'll be in the game, because this is baseball."
Arguably, the way Valverde pitched was the real show.
Though broadcasts showed Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher muttering on his way back to the dugout on Monday night, Swisher said on Tuesday that wasn't because of anything Valverde did. The Yankees' right fielder was simply frustrated at striking out. Valverde threw him nothing but splitters that ducked and darted away from the bat. Swisher took a couple off the plate to work the count full before swinging and missing at the last.
Valverde hopped off the mound after that and crouched on the first-base side, where he made the sign of the cross.
"That's a big out for my team," Valverde said.
At that point, Valverde said, he isn't paying attention to the hitter. He's turning his attention to the next batter coming up.
For the Yankees, that was Mark Teixeira, who had homered earlier in the game. Valverde threw nothing but splitters to him, too. Teixeira swung at and missed two of them, then took a called third strike on the outside corner, prompting another hop off the mound from Valverde.
The first fastball Valverde threw was his first pitch to Alex Rodriguez. By that point, catcher Gerald Laird said, the Tigers figured Rodriguez would be looking for splitters. Valverde threw all fastballs to Rodriguez, who took two before he swung at and missed a 98-mph heater to complete Valverde's ninth save of the year.
Asked if any player has taken offense to his mannerisms, Valverde said: "Not yet. Maybe soon -- I don't know. But right now, everything's good."
The act is certainly OK with Valverde's manager, who said animation has become more of an accepted part of the game.
"Like I said, if it upsets the other team, it's better than if he's upsetting me by not getting the save," Jim Leyland said. "But he's a good pitcher and a great kid, and I can assure you there's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- meant to show up the other team."
Besides, Leyland said: "To get through those three guys last night, I was pretty pumped up."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.