DETROIT — Tigers catcher Alex Avila stood in a corner of the clubhouse Thursday night, puffing a Cuban cigar and making no attempt to wipe neither the smile nor the celebratory sparkling grape juice off his face.
“After the Tigers drafted me, I was down in the Instructional League in Florida,” said Avila, a fifth-round pick in 2008 from the University of Alabama. “I said to my dad, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we win a World Series with the Tigers?’
“My dad said, ‘It would be amazing.’ ”
A few feet away, his father and Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, was laughing with other club executives while they all enjoyed a sweep of the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
“Now, we’re four wins away from winning it all,” Alex Avila said. “Four more wins, four more wins. … That’s it.”
The Tigers will travel to either St. Louis to face the Cardinals or to San Francisco to play the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night. The Cards had a 3-1 NLCS lead heading into Friday night’s game in St. Louis.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, during a postgame interview with TBS, got his teammates and the sellout crowd at Comerica Park excited by proclaiming, “Four more wins, guys. Four more wins.”
That appears to be the rallying cry for the Tigers.
“This city had our backs all the way,” Tigers pitching ace Justin Verlander said, “and this pennant is just as much theirs as it is ours.”
Alex Avila agreed: “The fans deserve it as much as we do.”
More than three million passed through the Comerica turnstiles this year, and 42,477 made a deafening roar when first baseman Prince Fielder twice waved off his fellow infielders with gusto before snagging the Jayson Nix pop up for the third and final out of the ALCS sweep.
Reliever Phil Coke slamming his glove to the ground at that instant received most of the replays, but there was Cabrera and Fielder hugging it out for a long moment.
“It was such a good feeling,” Fielder said. “It was very special. You play so hard every play, and to be able to get to this level is just such a great feeling.”
When the two big men backed off of their hug, Fielder took the ball out of his glove and handed it to Cabrera.
“Miggy kept the ball,” Fielder said with a grin. “I don’t know what he did with it.”
Cabrera’s two-run homer in the fourth inning was the big blow in the 8-1 win over the Yankees. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta added two homers with center fielder Austin Jackson chipping in a solo shot to turn it into a rout.
The Tigers clinched the pennant at home for the fourth consecutive time. They did it at Comerica in 2006 with Magglio Ordonez’s walk-off homer to beat the A’s, and at Tiger Stadium in 1984 with Milt Wilcox and Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez combining for a 1-0 shutout of the Royals.
Before the ALCS format, it was Don Wert singling home Al Kaline with the winning run in the 1968 pennant-clincher as Ernie Harwell told listeners to “listen to the bedlam” at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
Pennant-clinchers provide nights that players and fans never forget.
Inside the clubhouse, the Avilas celebrated as relievers Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit waved a pennants while running amid the cigar smoke and spray. How many fathers and sons had experienced such a chance?
“I don’t think too many,” Alex Avila said. “I don’t know of any, to tell you the truth. It’s a tremendous blessing; I thank God every day of my life for this and I don’t take it for granted, believe me. It’s not easy.”
But some unfinished business remains. … Four more wins.