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Phil Coke shut down the Yankees with seeming ease in Game 2.
Phil Coke seems to be an obvious choice simply because of his success in Game 2. Coke got six outs in the eighth and ninth innings, while allowing only one baserunner, Alex Rodriguez, on a two-out single in the ninth.
Coke has a fastball that frequently touches 95 mph, and interestingly, he's most effective on no rest, with an opposing batting average of .238 in back-to-back games. That's an ideal criterion for a closer.
His struggles this season, though, are well-documented and much discussed:
• a .396 average against right-handers
• a 5.82 ERA after the All-Star break
• a stretch from May to August where opponents batted well over .300 against him, including an August where the batters he faced became batting champions, hitting .444.
But Coke says he has figured out the reason for his struggles (via the Detroit Free Press).
"My daughter was born (on July 21), and then we went on a 10-game trip," Coke said. "I got to take my wife and my child home, and I had to pack and leave. That was terrible…that was part of my personal struggle through the remainder of the season…I figured it out. I kept pressing. I wasn't going to give in. I wasn't going to give up."
So perhaps Coke has righted his own ship. And almost as interesting as his effectiveness on no rest is the opposing batters' averages based on runners on base. His opposing average declines the more runners are on base.
With none on, his batting average against this season was .376. With one one, it was .286. With runners in scoring position, it was .224, and Coke was perfect with the bases loaded.
Those numbers offer support for anointing Coke as the Tigers' interim closer. But more important than the season numbers is his playoff performance: after his Game 2 mowdown, who's going to take the ball away from him?