By Steve Ginsburg
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Detroit Tigers, taking on the San Francisco Giants in pursuit of their first World Series crown since 1984, may have to achieve their mission without help from struggling closer Jose Valverde.
Valverde saved 35 games in the regular season but during the playoffs has imploded, getting hammered in the American League Division Series against Oakland, the league championship series against New York and in Wednesday's opener of the World Series.
"It happens for a lot of players," Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta said before Thursday's night's Game Two of the Fall Classic at AT&T Park. "Right now, it's not a good moment for him.
"But we try to support him, we try to talk to him and let him know to forget about what happened yesterday or the day before and try to go for the next game."
In the Giants' 8-3 triumph in Wednesday's World Series opener, Valverde surrendered two runs on four straight hits before getting yanked by manager Jim Leyland, who called on him in the seventh inning.
The lone out Valverde managed was against the opposing pitcher, striking out Tim Lincecum on a 3-2 pitch.
"I certainly don't think he was bad last night," Leyland said. "He wasn't real good. The biggest thing with Valverde is the same thing that's bitten him all year where he's been too much in the middle of the plate."
Leyland said Valverde has the heat on his fastball, it's just that the location is off.
"People have all kind of answers as to what's been wrong," he said. "But from what I see, he was 92, 93 (mph) last night with a couple 94s, so I think it's just a matter of locating his fastball and keeping it out of the middle of the plate."
Prior to Wednesday's game, the 34-year-old Dominican had not pitched since the opening game of the ALCS when the Yankees tagged him for a pair of two-run homers in the ninth inning of a game they led 4-0.
Detroit survived Valverde's ninth-inning disaster with two runs in the 12th in a 6-4 triumph.
In his previous playoff appearance, Valverde came on in the ninth-inning of an AL Division Series-clinching situation with a two-run lead and six batters later Oakland claimed a 4-3 win.
Left-handed reliever Phil Coke closed the most recent Detroit wins, but Leyland may be forced to use a closer by committee approach.
Ten-year veteran Valverde has 277 career saves but during the 2012 playoffs is 0-1 with a 30.38 earned run average.
Leyland had wanted Valverde to get his confidence back in Wednesday's game even though it was not a save opportunity. The Tigers were already down 6-1 when Valverde took the hill.
"I thought it was a good opportunity to get him back out there, get him back on the mound, get a little bit of a feel for it," he said.
(Editing by Larry Fine)