By ANTONIO GONZALEZ, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Miguel Cabrera danced on a chair in one corner of the visiting clubhouse, puffing a cigar. Prince Fielder doused his young sons, Jadyn and Haven, with non-alcoholic sparkling wine, then handed them each a bottle to shake and spray.
Just when the celebration seemed to be ending, Justin Verlander ran through the door and screamed "Whoo!"
On the mound and in the clubhouse, Verlander made sure Detroit's postseason party wasn't over yet.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP backed up his credentials in the biggest moment of the season Thursday night, throwing a four-hitter in the decisive Game 5 to get the Tigers back to the AL championship series for a second straight year with a 6-0 victory over the overachieving Oakland Athletics.
"This is where legends are made," catcher Alex Avila said. "Tonight, he basically put us on his back and said, 'We're not going to lose.'"
Verlander delivered in the division series a day after closer Jose Valverde failed to hold a two-run lead in the ninth that pushed Detroit to the brink after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead back home.
Verlander gave Valverde — and every other arm — the night off.
The right-hander tossed his first career postseason shutout and complete game with a 122-pitch masterpiece. He struck out 11 and walked one.
"He had a look in his eye today," manager Jim Leyland said. "A complete-game look in his eye."
The Tigers flew back to Detroit to see if they will face either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles. That series is tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5 on Friday night in New York. Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday.
If Baltimore wins, it will start in Detroit. Otherwise the Motown crew is headed to the Big Apple.
"These moments you can't even describe. But it does get better every round, and we want that feeling," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said, his white-shirt soaked in bubbly. "We've felt this before. We want that even better feeling."
Verlander made sure they'll have a chance.
He was so sharp nobody in the bullpen ever got up to throw. Verlander struck out 22 in his wins on both ends of this nail-biting series, and saved his best for last.
After the Tigers squandered two chances to clinch the series, including blowing a two-run, ninth-inning lead in Game 4, Leyland left it all up to Verlander, just as he said he would.
"I think it's one of those things I expected to go nine innings," Verlander said. "In this situation, in a Game 5, I wanted to go all the way."
Austin Jackson hit an RBI double in the third and a run-scoring single during a four-run seventh. Fielder also had an RBI single.
The Tigers are on to another ALCS despite getting just one RBI all series from Triple Crown winner Cabrera — on a bases-loaded hit by pitch in the final game, no less. Booed by the yellow towel-twirling sellout crowd of 36,393 each time he stepped into the batter's box, Cabrera finished 5 for 20, and it was his blooper dropped by center fielder Coco Crisp in a 5-4 Game 2 victory Sunday that allowed two runs to score.
Leave it to Verlander to erase all the mistakes — and Leyland all but called his ace's latest gem.
The Detroit skipper gave the ball to his 17-game winner and said beforehand the Tigers would likely win or lose with the hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.
"Justin Verlander's a pretty tough chore for anybody," Leyland said.
And, against the A's — or anybody else, for that matter — Verlander usually wins.
Verlander recorded the most strikeouts in a shutout of a winner-take-all postseason game, topping Sandy Koufax's 10 in the 1965 World Series against Minnesota.
"When you're going into pressure situations like this, there's nobody better to have on the mound than Justin," Jackson said.
Verlander followed up an 11-strikeout outing in Detroit's 3-1 Game 1 win Saturday with another overpowering performance in his 10th postseason start. He improved to 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in three postseason starts against the A's and upped his career mark to 5-4 with 2.15 ERA in 10 starts at the Coliseum.