Oakland, Calif. — Someone approached Joaquin Benoit in the Tigers clubhouse late Friday night. They dryly suggested that Benoit was like the office guy flipping off the lights, shutting the door, wrapping up another nondescript day on the job.
“Well, if you want to call it that way,” Benoit said, smirking at the suggestion Friday night’s Game 1 Division Series victory, a 3-2 triumph over the A’s at O.co Coliseum, was in any way casual.
Of course, it wasn’t. It’s simply that Benoit, the Tigers closer, so often puts away games in clean, crisp fashion. It’s in mark contrast to a situation the Tigers were dealing with a year ago, when Jose Valverde was in various stages of self-immolation that begot a long stretch of Tigers anxieties.
Benoit had to finish a game and clamp down on a string of A’s hitters who can slam baseballs into the heavens and, in a snap, turn an opponent’s tight lead into a deficit.
But he wasn’t about to let the A’s pull any home-field, home-crowd heroics Friday. Not even during an overtime save assignment that began with two out in the eighth, when Benoit was summoned to take on A’s star Josh Donaldson, whom he put away on a pop-up to third base.
In the ninth, Benoit was asked to deal with Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes (he had hit a two-run homer off starter Max Scherzer for the A’s only two runs) and Josh Reddick.
Benoit all but pulled a couple of Old West pistols from their holsters. He gunned down three mean A’s batters on three consecutive strikeouts, bedeviling them with a fusillade of fastballs and change-ups.
“Today, I changed my approach,” Benoit said as he stood before his locker in the Tigers clubhouse, sifting through iPhone messages and calls that had been received since he nailed down yet another save.
“I tried to keep them off-balance. And to keep them from looking away.”
Benoit tends to stick with a standard mix as he wends his way through late-inning lineups. He throws his fastball, sometimes as fast as 95- or 96-mph, and always with a particular quadrant in mind.
He also loves his slider. It behaves in the manner of his fastball before it veers in a direction that can confound hitters.
But in his Friday night cameo, Benoit bagged the slider. He went instead with his change-up.
The fastball set the tone. It arranged expectations in the minds of A’s hitters, who also had to be wary of Benoit’s slider.
The change-up simply was a third weapon, a different dimension. It helped keep Benoit’s pitches from leaving the ballpark, or, in the ninth inning, from even finding their way into play.
“Good thing to get that first one,” said Benoit, who at 36, is having the finest of his three sterling seasons in Detroit’s bullpen. “Just a great game.”
And not a bad save by a guy who continues to add to an ever-growing collection.