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LAND -- As difficult as the march to the postseason and the five-game grind of the American League Division Series was for the Detroit Tigers, the last out of Thursday night's deciding victory over the Oakland A's was an easy, routine grounder that served as a prelude to one heck of a party.
Seth Smith hit a medium-speed ground ball right at Tigers second baseman Omar Infante, who gloved it and tossed to Prince Fielder at first. Fielder trudged slowly toward the mound, presumably not wanting to take the moment away from starter -- and finisher -- Justin Verlander, who had thrown a 122-pitch, 11-strikeout, 6-0 gem for the postseason ages.
Verlander jumped into the arms of catcher Alex Avila, and by then Fielder and the rest of the team had gathered in a throng between second and third base as the Oakland Coliseum crowd sat in crushed silence.
The remainder of the on-field portion of the celebration was subdued -- emblematic of a team that had simply made it back to the AL Championship Series, where it was knocked out by Texas a year ago, and feels like it has a lot more to accomplish. Tigers manager Jim Leyland hugged all of his players, including Fielder, twice.
Verlander was being grabbed by TV reporters for the first interview, and the A's fans got loud again, saluting their home team, gallant in defeat, for its unexpected run to an AL West title. Several Tigers pointed to their opponents, congratulating them on a great year and a tightly contested series.
"They played awesome," Fielder said of the A's. "Their pitching was incredible, timely hitting, great defense. ... They did a great job."
But all that subtlety didn't last too long.
Once the Tigers were safe and sound inside the plastic-wrapped walls of the tiny visiting clubhouse in the depths of the concrete Coliseum, however, plenty of emotions escaped, along with the foaming contents of bottle upon bottle of sparkling wine.
The Tigers did it the usual way, spraying each other or pouring whole bottles over each other, but the celebration went down in relatively orderly fashion. That is, until Verlander entered the room.
The pitcher did so with aplomb, running in full speed to join his teammates, screaming at the top of his lungs, and finding himself in the middle of another huddle. At least 15 Tigers dumped the remaining contents of the bottles they were holding onto every bit of Verlander's body, shouting, "Cy Young, Cy Young, Cy Young" all the while.
"This is when legends are made," Avila said. "He's had a tremendous career, basically putting us on his back and doing an unbelievable job. ... He's tremendous. I'm glad he's on our team."
Soon enough, the table holding all the champagne bottles was piled high with empties, and most of the players had retreated to the back of the room, where they could socialize apart from the media and gain access to the showers and untainted clothing before meeting up with their families and friends for the postgame parties.
General manager Dave Dombrowski surfaced for reporters wearing a soaked white undershirt and suitably messed-up hair. He was asked who he'd rather play in the ALCS, since he was well aware that the Yankees and Orioles will battle in a deciding Game 5 on Friday.
"They're both good clubs," he said. "All clubs at this point are really good. We'll either be opening on Saturday against Baltimore at home or we'll be going to New York tomorrow night late and playing there on Saturday. It really makes no difference."
And then, a good half-hour after the Tigers had clinched the ALDS and the clubhouse had finally quieted down a bit, two of the youngest members of the Detroit farm system, Prince's sons Jadyn, 7, and Haven, 6, held court.
Both grabbed bottles, both shook them up perfectly, and both went right at their father, spraying him just as thoroughly as his teammates had.