Detroit — Phil Coke sat in disbelief in front of his locker last Saturday night, his mouth wide open.
“No wonder y’all hate me so much,” he said.
The reason Coke wore that look of shock: There was a rumor swirling that he wanted out of Detroit, that he had become so frustrated with his pitching he hoped the Tigers would release him so he could get a fresh start with another organization.
“What? Wow,” he said, setting off a 20-minute conversation about some of the highs and lows of his Tigers career, which began in 2010. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. That is shocking to me.
“I love this game and I love the crazy situations I’m placed in, because if I’m able to get us out of crazy situations and turn the momentum of a game in our favor, that’s what I’m here for.”
Coke hasn’t been able to do that consistently the past two seasons, and that’s why he has become a target of Tigers fans.
And he knows it.
“That’s not fair,” he said. “It’s not because of lack of effort.”
And he’s right.
He was so good during the 2012 World Series run that many of the same fans who blast him today wanted him to be the Tigers closer.
But the following season, Coke went 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, which earned him a stint with Triple A Toledo.
This season, he’s 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.
And, chants of “Phil must go” are heard frequently at Comerica Park.
Coke explained his slide.
He said his left elbow felt like it was on fire every time he pitched last season. But he didn’t complain and pitched every time manager Jim Leyland asked. Coke also said he became confused by his role the past three seasons.
For those who support Coke, those are the reasons he hasn’t pitched well.
For those who don’t like him, those are excuses.
“During the 2012 World Series, I can’t tell you why things went the way they did,” Coke said. “But last year I thought my elbow was going to blow up every time I pitched. But I said I was going to keep going out there until it blows. I was giving it everything I had. I will always do that.
“I’m going to take my lumps now and then, but it is not for lack of effort.”
A night after Coke plead his case, he temporarily turned boos to cheers with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.
“I feel like I am pitching my butt off,” Coke said. “I really do.”
Teammate Joba Chamberlain agrees.
“The one thing I know is he will bust his butt out there,” Chamberlain said. “He is a great competitor and he really cares. I think he has turned things around and is throwing the ball better.”
Coke’s goal is simple: He wants to win a World Series.
“I love this place,” he said. “I enjoy Detroit and the surrounding areas. I enjoy the people here. I take pride in what I do. I take pride in feeling like I’m a piece of the community.
“I feel that sense of duty to go out and do my job.”