Less than three years ago, Papa Grande used his powerful array of fastballs and splitters to secure 47 saves as the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks, propelling the team all the way to the 2007 National League Championship Series.
This past weekend, however, Valverde was just as dominant as he shut down his former team and helped the Detroit Tigers secure two of three wins against the D-Backs.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound right-hander was spotless is his two save appearances during the weekend series, providing a stark contrast to Arizona's shaky pitching situation, particularly when it comes to the team's bullpen situation (sound familiar?). To wit: Chad Qualls cost the Snakes a victory on Friday after they fought back from a five-run deficit against the Tigers, only to lose the game 7-5.
Although Detroit went up 4-0 after the first two innings of the opening game of the series (including a two-run jack by Magglio Ordóñez), the Diamondbacks bounced back in the later frames. A solo homer from Miguel Montero in the fourth was followed by a parade of base hits in the fifth: Kelly Johnson came home on a Stephen Drew RBI single, who himself came home along with Justin Upton via a swat from Chris Young.
D-Town and the D-Backs each added another run to knot the score at five apiece before it all came down to a battle of the closers. After forcing a pair of groundouts in the eighth, Qualls chose to walk Brennan Boesch instead of nailing the final out of the inning. Brandon Inge made him regret that decision as his triple to deep center field scored one run, and an Alex Avila RBI single put a cherry on top. Meanwhile, Valverde muscled through three quick outs in the ninth.
Qualls' role as closer was already in doubt going into the weekend (as manager A.J. Hinch recently decided to start alternating the pitcher with Aaron Heilman), and Friday's game did nothing to change that situation. Conversely, Papa Grande more than justified his position with another stellar performance on Sunday during Detroit's 3-1 win.
Ian Kennedy outdueled former Diamondbacks pitcher Max Scherzer on the mound, going scoreless through six innings of work. He even got some much-needed run support in the first when Young doubled home Justin Upton (who'd been walked by Scherzer and then advanced to second by Montero). Kennedy's luck ran out in the eighth after a Miguel Cabrera single and back-to-back moonshots by Boesch and Carlos Guillén put Detroit on top for good.
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The weekend's only bright spot came on Saturday evening, when Arizona survived a late rally by their opponents and won 6-5 to snap their road game losing streak at 14. The Snakes scored early and often in the win, starting with a two-run homer by Mark Reynolds in the second.
Then came the spectacular sixth, which broke things open for Arizona. Montero sparked things off with a 398-foot dong to left center, followed by an Adam LaRoche double to deep right, and a walk by Reynolds. Gerardo Parra's titanic triple produced two runs and Chris Snyder's sacrifice fly provided another to total six on the scoreboard.
Arizona drops to 27-43 with the series loss and heads home to welcome the mighty New York Yankees to town. The Bronx Bombers (43-26) are currently leading the American League and are expected to not only run roughshod over the Diamondbacks but will more than likely pack the stands with their pinstripe-wearing fans, turning Chase Field into Yankee Stadium for the next three games.
It kicks off tonight when Rodrigo Lopez (2-6, 4.70 ERA) faces off against New Yawk's A.J. Burnett (6-5, 4.33). First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Arizona and ESPN. Radio: KTAR 620-AM. More info: www.dbacks.com.