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ROIT -- Alex Avila broke into the big leagues in 2009, when Fernando Rodney was closing Tigers games with a crooked cap and making bird impressions in the clubhouse. Avila has caught three seasons worth of Jose Valverde, known for his antics on the field after he completes a save.
By that standard, Al Alburquerque kissing a baseball isn't particularly odd for him, especially knowing Alburquerque.
"I've seen a guy kiss a baseball. Not while they're running to first [base] with it," Avila said. "But nothing really surprises me with Al. I mean, anything can really happen when he's on the mound."
It was a more surprising sight for A's hitters who witnessed the smooch after Alburquerque snared Yoenis Cespedes' comebacker to strand the potential go-ahead run on third base in the ninth inning of Game 2 in their American League Division Series Sunday at Comerica Park.
It ended up being the winning out for the Tigers, but it was a losing move for at least one Oakland player.
"I didn't appreciate it," said A's outfielder Josh Reddick, who watched it from the dugout. "I think that's immature and not very professional. So that's all I can leave it at."
Alburquerque declined to talk with a group of reporters after the game. He told the Detroit Free Press and other local outlets earlier that it was an expression of happiness.
"The emotion of the game," Alburquerque told the Free Press. "I just tried to make my out. I feel so happy to get the guy out. That's it."
His teammates, many of whom have been around him since he broke into the Majors with Detroit last year, don't doubt his intent. To Avila, it's part of what makes him an effective late-inning reliever.
"He does a great closer's mentality as far as [he] doesn't care who's up, doesn't care about the situation," Avila said. "He's going to pitch his game and do whatever he can to get the outs. He's got great stuff, so he's got tremendous confidence. You're going to see crazy things on the mound when he's out there."
Cespedes stepped to the plate with two out after Stephen Drew's single off left-hander Phil Coke advanced Coco Crisp.
Alburquerque replaced Coke and entered a difficult situation. He has fanned 85 batters over 56 2/3 innings since the Tigers called him up last year, but he also threw four wild pitches last year. His slider is his strikeout pitch of choice, but it's a pitch that can break so sharply that it leaves catchers diving to block it in the dirt.
"I've done it a million times when he's pitching with guys on third base," Avila said. "It's just a mindset to try not to let anything go by you and knock it down. More times than not, you're going to get it done. Sometimes it goes by you. But when he comes in, he's got to make pitches and trust that, whether it's myself or Gerald back there, we're going to block it."
Alburquerque threw back-to-back sliders, missing the first but hitting the strike zone with the second for a 1-1 count. He retired Cespedes, though, on a 93-mph sinker.
Alburquerque snared a one-hopper back to the mound, took it out of his glove hand, then kissed it before throwing to Prince Fielder for the out.