The Tigers would be on their way to the American League Championship Series if closer Jose Valverde had somehow found a way to protect the 3-1 lead in the ninth. Instead, the Tigers were beaten twice on Wednesday. Once by the A's players in dramatic walk-off fashion and then by the A's clubhouse staff that had to rush the champagne out of the visiting locker room and tear down the sheets of plastic in front of their lockers.
The Tigers said all of the rights things when they finally broke their silence and Valverde was the first to say them. The closer emerged from the kitchen, stood in front of his locker and answered every question from the swarm of media that had surrounded him.
Nobody had to tell Valverde what was at stake. All he had to do was look at the shard of plastic hanging above his head if needed a reminder of how close he had come to victory.
"This is tough but this series isn't over yet," Valverde said. "We will leave it here and go to the hotel. This game is over."
In the other corner of the clubhouse, Catcher Alex Avila was the next to address the hordes of media. A few feet behind him stood a bewildered Delmon Young with plastic still draped on one side of his locker like a shower curtain. Somebody had forgotten to completely rip off the plastic and take it to the storage area.
"There are no effects," Avila said. "This is baseball and we have 162 games and it's easy to forget one and go on to the next one."
Gerald Laird echoed the sentiments as he stood near Valverde's locker.
"We win and lose as a team. He's our closer and he just didn't get it done tonight," Laird said. "I know he will be ready if we hand the ball to him. There is not one guy that we blame on this team."
Third baseman Miguel Cabrera entered the scene, he playfully slapped a pair of male reporters on their rear ends and smirked. It appeared the Triple Crown winner was already over the loss and ready for Thursday's finale. But the mood in the clubhouse took a serious turn and tension surfaced when veteran Octavio Dotel told Cabrera to address the media because it was his job as the leader of the team
Cabrera turned down all interview requests and sat at one of the tables in his dress clothes with his arms crossed. Dotel, still in uniform, sat at the other table and shook his head.
In the interview room, Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked about the beauty of baseball.
"Well, it's baseball. I mean, that's why this is the greatest game of all," Leyland said. "It looked like we were going to get it. We didn't do it. We didn't quite get the 27 outs, that's part of the game."
Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who is scheduled to start Game 5 against Oakland rookie Jarrod Parker, also took the podium. He carried himself the way you think a Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP would.
"I'm going to try to treat it like another start, kind of like the last start, as much as I can. Obviously it's a big game for us. But like I said, this team's been resilient and we allowed ourself to be in this position.
As for Valverde, he admitted he will have a hard time sleeping Wednesday night but said he will be ready if called upon in Game 5. He had one last reminder of the forgettable night on his way out of the clubhouse, a pile of plastic near the exit door.
"If I have it tomorrow, I'll be in the game. It doesn't matter what happened," Valverde said. "I have the confidence of my team. I have a lot of big guys here -- myself, Cabrera, Prince [Fielder], all these guys, Octavio, [Joaquin] Benoit. I'll be in the game tomorrow 100 percent. The A's will do the most they can, and my team will do the most it can."