Oakland, Calif. — If they woke you up, Nebraska and other states en route, cut ’em some slack.
That party in the morning sky, jetting coast to coast in the wee hours after a 3-0 victory, were the celebrating Tigers — on their merry way to Boston for the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
“And we’re thrilled to be going” said manager Jim Leyland.
It got a little scary at the end on Thursday night when the A’s put two runners on, but the Tigers got it done.
After staring at elimination at home, they downed the Oakland Athletics in five games of their Division Series.
For a while, it looked like the grueling series might even end in historic fashion, what with Justin Verlander at his absolute best for eight innings.
He went the sixth inning with a perfect game.
He went into the seventh with a no-hitter.
Not only that, “but he had the stuff to get it done,” said catcher Alex Avila. “The way he was throwing, they weren’t going to get much.”
The A’s weren’t going to get much with that look, either.
“I’ve seen it before,” Leyland said. “He was locked in.”
“You still never know, but when he has that stuff,” said Tigers’ president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, “you feel as good as you can.”
Although it was a sad truth for the A’s, manager Bob Melvin knew it, too.
“He was on it early,” Melvin said of Verlander. “We weren’t getting very good swings. It’s surprising how many fastballs we swung through.”
While Verlander came away with neither individual prize, eventually allowing two singles and a walk, the Tigers nailed down the one they wanted: The chance to play for the pennant against the Boston Red Sox.
In so doing, the Tigers solved the puzzle of Oakland’s Sonny Gray — the impressive rookie who shut them down in Game 2, but off whom they scored three runs this time.
The baffled A’s, though, didn’t do the same with Verlander, who was far more than vintage.
“When you don’t score a run, you know,” said Melvin, “you have to be perfect.”
Josh Reddick’s one-out walk in the sixth was the first runner off Verlander.
But the A’s didn’t have a hit until Yoenis Cespedes’ two-out single in the seventh.
And with Miguel Cabrera dusting off his power for the Tigers with a two-run home run in the fourth, they did what they had to do to move on to face the Red Sox.
Some would call them the powerful Red Sox.
The Tigers can be powerful, too, but to a large extent that depends on Cabrera’s power —specifically on whether it’s present and accounted for.
This time, after quite a wait, it was — and for what he did, the Tigers as a team waited until Cabrera was done with his postgame interviews before they popped the corks in unison.
Cabrera’s home run off Gray following Torii Hunter’s one-out single in the fourth, was his first home run since Sept. 17 — and the first he’s pulled to left since Aug. 25.
He had a booming batting practice, but not for the first time since he’s been coping with groin issues. This time, though, his power didn’t cease with his practice swings.
As Melvin said, though, “I don’t know how surprised you can be when Miguel Cabrera hits a home run.”
After the starters canceled each other out for out through three innings, with Prince Fielder’s leadoff walk in the second serving as the only interruption to the parade of consecutive outs, Game 5 seemed to be shaping up as the duel Game 2 turned out to be.
As Leyland said, Verlander had that look.
Then again, you know that look.
You saw it more in his 24-win season of 2011 than you did in this, his 13-win season.
You also saw it more when you used to have the feeling that Verlander could throw a no-hitter in almost any start.
But a funny thing about that look is that it began to creep back when Verlander finished the regular season with consecutive shutout starts of six innings each.
When he also blanked the A’s on four hits in seven innings of Game 2 in this Division Series, it was clear that whatever his last tweak was in a season of tweaking locked him into his old effectiveness.
“That’s Verlander,” Cabrera said. “He’s all right.”
Gray, meanwhile, had only three good innings in him before he began to wear down.
After Cabrera’s home run, he got out of a bases loaded jam, but exited in the sixth when the Tigers tacked on a third run with the help of consecutive singles from Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta to start the inning.
Martinez eventually scored on Omar Infante’s fielder’s choice grounder to third, giving the Tigers their third run.
On this noisy night, though, one run would have been enough.