DETROIT -- Tigers closer Jose Valverde entered Tuesday night's game against the Yankees with a three-run lead in the ninth inning. However, Detroit just barely escaped with a 6-5 victory after Valverde surrendered two runs on three hits and a walk, and left runners on second and third.
For manager Jim Leyland, it was just a matter of his closer "getting under the ball" as the 34-year-old Valverde had some control issues, throwing a season-high 33 pitches and 15 of them for balls.
"He just got out of whack. He was getting underneath the ball some," Leyland said. "You know, you're not perfect every time. It doesn't work that way. It's a tough game. Sometimes you know where it is but you don't get it there. He's fine."
It was the fourth time this season Valverde has had a 30-plus-pitch inning, and his most pitches in a game since May 2, 2011, when he threw 35 against New York. But Leyland pointed out that Valverde had clean innings -- meaning no hits, no walks, no runs -- in five of his previous six games.
It hasn't exactly been a replica season for the 2011 Major League saves leader, but it's not all that far off. Of his 47 appearances this season, 21 of them have been clean. In 75 games last year, only 22 games in 75 appearances were without a hit, walk or run allowed.
The main difference is Valverde went a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities converted last year and owned a streak of 51 consecutive saves, which stands as the second-longest streak in baseball history. He has blown four this season.
"I don't think [fans] expect [perfection], but he's always in a situation normally where he decides the outcome," Leyland said. "He's out there because you got a lead. So if he doesn't do well and you lose a game, people focus on that more."
That's why the closer is such a noticeable position, Leyland said, and he also hopes the fans notice how good the Tigers' closer has been.
Since joining the club in 2010, Valverde has the highest save percentage (93.3 percent) in the Majors. The next closest is Andrew Bailey (90.7 percent), but he's thrown more than 90 fewer innings. Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest closer in the history of the game, is 10th with an 88.2 save percentage.
"He's obviously been one of the best," Leyland said. "And one of the reasons he's one of the best is because he's got a real knack for turning the page. Closers who can't turn the page usually don't close too long."
The skipper said, if the situation presents itself, Valverde will be given a chance to "turn the page" Wednesday night, as he was available after his long inning, although Leyland would like the give him one of the final two games of the series off.
Leyland up front about mixing, matching outfielders
DETROIT -- Now that Jeff Baker is in the Tigers' outfield fold, manager Jim Leyland has the roster mix he wanted. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski did his part with Detroit's Trade Deadline dealings. Now it's Leyland's turn to mix and match.
He's already preparing his outfielders for that.
"We have a chance right now to have everybody involved," Leyland said. "Everybody has a chance to be a hero. But everybody's got to buy in."
With that in mind, Leyland said he met with all of his outfielders earlier this week and tried to let them know his plans.
"I told them, 'I can play four of six every day, but I can't play you all every day,'" he said. "I explained it to them so everybody knows their situation and everybody knows they might not be in the lineup every day, with the exception of [Austin] Jackson.
"Everybody knows pretty much what they're going to be doing, and you just ask them to be on board and be patient with it, because I'm happy with all the outfielders. But I can only play three in the outfield and one DH. That's four; we got six. That's fun, but it also keeps people fresh."
That holds especially true against most right-handed starters, since they have three left-handed hitters in Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry. Leyland said that he'll start Berry on Thursday against New York's Hiroki Kuroda. It'll be Berry's first start in five days.
"When you have a dilemma, and it's a good dilemma, you meet it head-on," Leyland said.
Benoit dealing with sore shoulder, but OK to pitch
DETROIT -- Normally, an eighth-inning lead belongs to Joaquin Benoit when he's available, so manager Jim Leyland raised eyebrows Tuesday when he went to Octavio Dotel to handle the eighth inning and carry the lead to closer Jose Valverde in a 6-5 win over the Yankees. Leyland explained after the game that Benoit had some soreness around his right shoulder.
"He's been a little sore, but he's OK. No red flags," Leyland said.
Benoit echoed that on Wednesday, saying he's fine and ready to pitch after a couple days off.
It's similar, Leyland said, to a minor issue Benoit had last year. Leyland said he gave him two days off at the time and he felt fine afterward. Tuesday marked his second consecutive day off. He could have pitched Tuesday if needed, Leyland said, but he wanted to avoid it if he could.
Benoit entered Wednesday tied for 10th among American League pitchers with 50 appearances this season, three off the lead shared by Red Sox closer Alfredo Aceves and Yankees lefty Boone Logan. Benoit is on pace for 74 appearances, four over his career high set five years ago with Texas before his shoulder problems.
Not fan of Wild Card format, Leyland supports game
DETROIT -- Call Tigers manager Jim Leyland a lukewarm supporter of the new playoff system. He isn't a big fan of the one-game Wild Card playoff, he admits, but said he supports whatever works for the game.
During his pregame session with the media on Wednesday, Leyland was asked if he liked the new Wild Card format, to which he replied: "No. I do not."
"I don't really care what they do," Leyland said. "It doesn't matter to me. The one game is fine. If that's what they want, that's what they want. But I don't like a team getting into the playoffs then having a sudden death one game.
"Whatever they decide to do is fine with me because it doesn't make a difference. I'm not going to have any impact on that. My opinion means nothing on that. I was in on that discussion a long time in several meetings that we've had on the [Special Committee for On-Field Matters]."
In March, when the addition of a Wild Card team was announced, Commissioner Bud Selig said each of the 14 members on the committee were in favor. Leyland admitted he was not Wednesday, but added he's a huge fan of the job Selig has done improving the sport.
"I think it's a creative idea. I think the Commissioner's really done a fantastic job," Leyland said. "Baseball's booming pretty good. If you look at the paper today, they got a whole big thing on the teams for that Wild Card thing, so that's added additional interest. ... He's done a good job. I like him a lot, and he's done a lot for the game. He really has."
Tuesday's Tigers win over the Yankees was the third most-watched Tigers game on FOX Sports Detroit, trailing only this year's season opener against the Red Sox and Tigers-Twins on Sept. 30, 2009, during the final week of their AL Central race. Tuesday's game drew a 14.4 household rating on a night opposite the Olympics on network television.
ESPN hasn't announced its Sunday Night Baseball schedule past Aug. 19, but the Tigers appear to be prime candidates to be added in at least one of the three weeks after that. They host the Angels on Aug. 26 in what could be a showcase of AL MVP candidates Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, then have the White Sox in town Sept. 2 in an AL Central clash. The Tigers-Angels game in Anaheim on Sept. 9 currently has no start time listed.
The Tigers cluttered the list on Baseball America's Best Tools survey, as voted on by American League managers and coaches. Cabrera was voted the AL's best hitter over Robinson Cano and Mike Trout. Justin Verlander was voted best pitcher over Jered Weaver, as well as best fastball and best curveball, while finishing second to Weaver for best control. Leyland was voted best manager over Joe Maddon and Bob Melvin.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.