OAKLAND — Max Scherzer stood on one end of the Detroit Tigers clubhouse, his goofy two-colored goggles covering his eyes from the champagne flying everywhere, and indulged the questions.
When could he pitch in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox? How good does he feel about the Tigers' chances, now that it looks like they've shaken off their struggles?
"We're not worried about Boston tonight," Scherzer said. "We're celebrating. When you beat a team like the A's and they play you as tough as this, you earn the right to throw the champagne around."
And so he went, to the other side of the clubhouse, where players were shooting champagne at each other, where Prince Fielder was double-fisting bottles and pouring them over his head, where the stogies would soon be lit.
These are the spoils when you win a playoff series, and they were even sweeter for the Tigers on Thursday night. They knocked off the A's 3-0 in a do-or-die Game 5, winning in decisive fashion to advance to their third straight ALCS. But it felt like a little more than that, didn't it? It felt like a team straightening itself out in the knick of time, like a once-World Series favorite saying, "hold up, guys, we're still one of baseball's most dangerous teams."
The Tigers had their backs against the wall a few nights earlier. Their offense was struggling. They needed to win two elimination games to keep their postseason hopes alive. And in Game 5, their biggest names made it happen— Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer to provide all the offense the Tigers needed. If those two are on in the playoffs, it's changes the dynamic of the MLB postseason.
"We in good position," Cabrera said in the postgame press conference. "We got to come through like a team together and go out there on fire. It's like a puzzle."
The Tigers still weren't as good in these past few games as we know they can be, but they were showing a glimmer of it. The team that once had 20 consecutive scoreless innings in this ALDS and a total of three runs and 11 hits in Games 2 and 3, rebounded for 11 runs and 17 hits in the final two games.
Game 5 was classic Tigers — impeccable pitching, well-timed long ball —so it was hard not to look at their performance Thursday night and wonder how good they can be moving forward in these playoffs. You can bet the Boston Red Sox are wondering that too.
"This team is good," Torii Hunter said, in between clubhouse high-fives. "We're fighters. We keep grinding. Victor Martinez, Cabrera, Prince, myself — we got some veteran presence in here. We just try to get the job done. We don't give up."
Surely, he could feel there was something different about the Tigers now, right?
"The last couple days it changed," Hunter said. "You could feel the shift."