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Verlander pitches Tigers past A's, back to ALCS

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Verlander pitches Tigers past A's, back to ALCS

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.

Verlander had allowed one earned run with a 0.69 ERA in beating the A's twice during the regular season.

``He's always tough. You go out there and you battle him the best that you can,'' Crisp said. ``Today he had some of his best stuff of the year.''

Detroit finally got to party in a visiting clubhouse that for the sixth straight game was prepped for a possible clinch celebration.

The Texas Rangers were in town last week needing one victory to win the AL West but dropped all three to lose the division to the surprising A's in game No. 162.

On Wednesday night, plastic covering the floor and lockers was torn down in all of about 40 seconds after Valverde allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth as Oakland won with another walkoff in a season full of them.

This time, the Tigers let loose.

Players quickly ran to a table to grab another celebratory bottle when Verlander entered the clubhouse, drenching him in all directions and chanting ``Cy Young! Cy Young!''

``It was awesome and horrible at the same time because you can't see a thing,'' he said. ``Your eyes are burning and all I want to do is look up and celebrate with my teammates. And all I can do is look down and shut my eyes.''

After Seth Smith grounded out to end the game, the A's stayed on the field to greet the fans who were still on their feet chanting ``Let's Go Oakland!'' Verlander waved toward the Oakland players in a classy acknowledgment, and Leyland walked over to wish A's manager Bob Melvin well.

Detroit's offense did more than enough to give Verlander a cushion on another relatively quiet night by Cabrera and Fielder, the team's $214 million cleanup hitter who signed as a free agent from Milwaukee in the winter.

Cabrera went five straight games without an RBI on four different occasions during the regular season, but didn't extend that to the playoffs when Ryan Cook plunked him with the bases loaded in the seventh.

The upstart A's were attempting to become the ninth team to rally from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series, but couldn't match the cross-bay Giants after San Francisco won at Cincinnati earlier in the day to reach the NL championship series.

So much for all that chatter about another Bay Bridge World Series in Northern California like the earthquake-interrupted Series in 1989 swept by the A's.

Oakland struck out 50 times in a series of swings and misses after riding high only a week ago, stunning the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers on the regular season's final day to win the AL West. The strikeouts were the most in A's franchise history for a five-game series.

The A's payroll of $59.5 million is lowest in the majors. But the last game was the only lopsided one.

Detroit eliminated Oakland again after the Tigers pulled off a four-game sweep in the 2006 AL championship series.

``We didn't think it was going to end today, not for a second,'' Melvin said. ``We knew we were going up against a good pitcher. That didn't mean we didn't think we were going to win. We've gone up against good pitchers this year. And it's a bit of a shock when it finally does end. It was a heck of a story. It was a heck of a run for us.''

The Tigers now look to get through another round after falling in six games to the Rangers in last year's ALCS.

NOTES: Josh Reddick, who hit a team-leading 32 homers, struck out 10 times for the most by an A's player in a postseason series. The only person with more Ks than Reddick in a division series was Seattle's Bret Boone with 11 in 2001. ... The A's have lost eight of their last nine postseason series. ... Cabrera has reached base safely in all 16 of his postseason games with the Tigers. ... Verlander is Detroit's career postseason leader in strikeouts (70) and wins (5).

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz finds contract he was looking for, officially named New York Islanders new head coach

Barry Trotz did not remain unemployed for very long.

Trotz, who led the Capitals to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup title, resigned from his post less than a week after the team's championship parade in Washington, D.C.

But on Thursday, the Capitals' now former bench boss was officially named the head coach of the New York Islanders.

Trotz's contract was expected to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, but upon winning the Stanley Cup, an automatic two-year extension was triggered, raising his $1.5 million yearly salary by $300,000. But Trotz wanted to be compensated as one of the top five coaches in the NHL.

While the terms of his deal have yet to be finalized, according to Elliotte Friedman, Trotz's deal could be in the 5-year, $20 million range.

With the Islanders, Trotz inherits a team that finished 35-37-10 last season under head coach Doug Weight, despite having John Tavares, one of the best centers in the NHL, and several young studs like Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Josh Ho-Sang. But Tavares enters the offseason as a free agent, and many teams will be looking to pay top-dollar for his services. 

Trotz will report to Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders' president and general manager in May after spending three seasons in the same role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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