On-field festivities feature group cheer choreographed by Hunter
Barry M. Bloom
OAKLAND -- The Tigers took one giant step along their way in the postseason on Thursday night at the O.co Coliseum by defeating the A's in their American League Division Series in five very tough games.
And if you were wondering what they were doing as they congregated on and around the mound after their 3-0 win, it was an almost collegiate-like group cheer devised by right fielder Torii Hunter that began in tougher times as the team was struggling to finish the season.
"It's called 'Turn Up,'" Hunter said in the din of another champagne celebration in the clubhouse. "When I played football when I was younger, that's what we did on the field to get pumped up."
It's new and a little different on a baseball field.
"You know, we're making our own trends," he said. "If anybody else tries to copy that, then it would be fake."
Amid chants of "nah nah hey hey, goodbye" and "Mig-gy, Mig-gy," the group waited for Miguel Cabrera to come off the field and into the clubhouse before gathering together again. They engaged in one last version of "Tune Up," screaming and chanting and lifting their arms skyward before heading off to Boston to open the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox in Game 1 on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
It sounds like a big whoop-it-up, but Hunter said there's much more to it than that.
"I just say, 'Bring it down,' and we scream," he said. "When I go to my head, we do it again. When we go to my leg, we do it again. Then we all raise our hands up. I don't know if I'm the leader, but they always push me into the middle of it.
"We started it before the game in the clubhouse during our last series in Chicago. We were playing too laid-back, a little flat. I was sitting in the cab driving to the stadium, and I said, 'We're going to get a football mentality.' We won, and we've only lost four games since we've been doing that."
Cabrera, the Tigers' offensive leader, hit a two-run homer off rookie A's starter Sonny Gray in the fourth inning. For Cabrera, who has been playing hurt, it was just the second homer and third extra-base hit since Aug. 26. Justin Verlander is the team's acknowledged leader, and he pitched his club back into the ALCS with a stellar Game 5 performance, eliminating the A's on their turf for the second year in a row.
Verlander had a no-hitter going before Yoenis Cespedes singled with two outs in the seventh. He allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out 10 in eight innings before making way for closer Joaquin Benoit in the ninth. A year ago to this day, Verlander pitched a shutout, allowing four hits, walking one and striking out 11.
These were huge performances, but the return of a healthy Victor Martinez and the addition of Hunter as a free agent gave the Tigers a different feel this year than last, when they went all the way to World Series, only to be swept by the Giants.
The celebration itself was raucous, but not as extended as some. Many players retired to the rear of the clubhouse, where they sat with family members actually drinking the good, expensive champagne that was not to be sprayed around the room.
It's their third consecutive trip to the ALCS.
"They've done it a few times now," said Dave Dombrowski, the team's longtime president and general manager, his wavy gray hair glistening with the cheap stuff. "I think they really have a tight-knit group. I think that Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez coming back have really pulled the club together even more so. They've really established a bond as the year has gone on.
"Torii has made a huge difference. He's a wonderful person. He's a tremendous player who's had a really good career, but he is really a good person on a ballclub. He provides leadership. He knows what it takes to win. He's gritty."
And to cite Hunter's chant, the Tigers will have to continue to turn it up to take another step in the playoffs against the Red Sox.