Seventh inning. Jose Valverde, standing on the mound, hands on hips. Jim Leyland, walking toward him to ask for the ball. The Giants' Buster Posey standing on first, smiling. Marco Scutaro exchanging celebrations in the Giants' dugout. Giants fans going wild. 8-1, San Francisco.
That image might be the last the Tigers have of the closer who had miraculously saved 49 of 49 in the regular season a year earlier and who still managed to save 88 percent of his attempts in 2012.
We can't know what was truly going through Jose Valverde's head at that moment. To be an athlete who was darn near perfect at what he does but to lose it all, and seemingly all-of-a-sudden, on the big stage
Not to conflate Valverde to the level of Mariano Rivera or imply he lost his ability all at once. Even when Valverde was saving every game in sight, the foundation was a bit shaky. In 2012, he allowed more baserunners than ever, struck out fewer, and seemed well along the road of an aging ball player. He blew a few more saves than we were used to, gave up a few more extra-innings runs than we expected, and was just not quite the same.
But he wasn't four hits and two runs with just one out against the Giants in the World Series awful.
He wasn't four runs on three hits with two outs against the Yankees in the ALCS awful.
He wasn't three runs on four hits with two outs against the A's in the ALDS awful.
In fact, in the first game of the ALDS, Valverde earned the save without allowing a base runner while striking out two.
During his final five appearances of the regular season, he was about as close to perfect as they come, allowing a lone hit, a lone walk,and no runs while saving four games.
But for the last three times he took the mound in a game, nothing but frustration. Dejection. Confusion. Valverde hasn't just lost it -- he's lost it completely and with all of baseball's eyes on him.
There couldn't be a much lonelier feeling in the baseball world at that moment.
"You know, he wasn't terrible. He just wasn't good," Jim Leyland told Tony Paul of the Detroit News.
At this point, it's clear that Leyland can't try to force the issue any more. Valverde can't pitch in late-innings, high-leverage situations. He can't even be trusted to keep the score close in low-leverage, middle-innings work.
For all Valverde's issues on the field, you have to feel for the man off of it. By all accounts, he's a good teammate. He likes to have fun. During his three seasons, he seemed like a giant ham, rather than a Big Potato.
When he arrived with the Tigers, I was not thrilled. I did not like what appeared to be showboating. I didn't like the large contract he received, either. But with time, he won me over, and he owned the ninth inning well enough to let the younger members of the bullpen develop and some more-talented pitchers to come into high-leverage moments earlier in the game.
Valverde might be done as a Tiger. If he is, you'll remember the bad moments. That's just the way it is with a closer.
But he had far more good times than bad. Maybe with a little time and a little distance, we'll remember that and see his years in Detroit for what they were: not perfect, but pretty darn successful, anyway.
If Valverde did throw his last pitch as a Tiger -- and, really, it's hard to say for sure -- the last image of Valverde shouldn't be a confused ballplayer wondering why his ability has left him. Think of a carefree, dancing Potato, and all the good times he provided.