LAKELAND, Fla. -- Octavio Dotel could be heard back in the clubhouse before he could be seen.
"Dotel is here," someone bellowed as the door opened.
"Ya!" Dotel yelled in return.
It was early Thursday afternoon, and the clubhouse was half-empty with nearly an hour to go before the team was scheduled to work out. The noise level, however, resembled something out of the regular season.
Dotel came back a winner -- again. It has become a familiar feeling for him.
"I've been celebrating a lot lately, to be honest," Dotel said. "I celebrated with us, went back to the Dominican and I won there [with Escogido in winter ball], and now I'm celebrating the [World Baseball Classic]."
All this has come in the twilight of his career. After spending his first dozen years in the big leagues in search of some sort of title before the revolving door of moves landed him in St. Louis to help the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011, now he can't stop winning.
He'd like to celebrate one more time this fall.
"I have to say I've been lucky," he said. "I've been with the right team, been with the right guys. Everything that's happened to me so far, I've just been in the right place. Hopefully I'm ending in the right place."
This, he said, is the right team.
"Oh, perfect one," he said. "This is not the right one. This is the perfect one. Trust me, everybody wants to be here on this team."
The Tigers wanted him back here, and they made it clear as soon as he walked in. His teammates, one by one, sought him out and congratulated him.
So did manager Jim Leyland.
"Congratulations," Leyland said as he gave him a hug. "Hey, you afraid of Miggy or what?"
Dotel laughed. He expected it.
Two weeks had passed since the Dominican Republic's opening showdown with Venezuela and Dotel's meeting with his Triple Crown-winning teammate, Venezuelan great Miguel Cabrera. Nobody had forgotten. It was the showdown that left Tigers players huddled around a clubhouse TV to watch as it happened, and it left them laughing when Dotel walked Cabrera.
"We had a meeting," Dotel told Leyland, "and we said, ''We cannot let Miggy beat us.' I got two men on base and I said, 'You know what? Go to first, and let me face [Pablo] Sandoval.' He already got me twice. I'm not taking a chance in the [Classic]."
Dotel remembers the two times Cabrera beat him. Once was a matchup in 2008, when Dotel was a division rival with the White Sox and Cabrera had just become a Tiger. The other was in 2010, when Dotel was closing in Pittsburgh.
The first hit was a walk-off shot. The second was a go-ahead blast in the eighth. Both were typical Cabrera opposite-field shots. Even having seen Cabrera up close for a year, Dotel knew better.
"I got two on, we were winning by three runs, and I said, 'You're not going to get me this time. I'll walk you and I'll face Sandoval.' I've got better numbers against Sandoval than him," Dotel said. "He popped out to center field. That was a smart move by me."
He couldn't have imagined what it started for his team. Dotel was part of a Dominican bullpen that delivered 25 2/3 scoreless innings over the course of the World Baseball Classic and played a huge role in the team's unbeaten run through the tournament. Dotel pitched 4 2/3 innings of those, allowing three hits and three walks while striking out three.
"That bullpen was sick. I'm not kidding you," Dotel said. "From the long relievers to the other relievers, everyone did what they were supposed to do there. It was crazy."
It was an experience Dotel compared with the World Series. He should know, since he has pitched in the last two Fall Classics. The Dominicans' celebration rivaled that of any title winner.
Then, suddenly, he's back to Spring Training.
"It was a little hard, I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "It was a little down, because we had so much fun and then, next thing you know, everyone was like, 'See you later.' But we understand, we have to get ready for the season coming up."
He doesn't have to worry about facing Cabrera any more, but he also won't have that same stacked Dominican bullpen, fronted by Fernando Rodney. Not only is Dotel part of a Tigers bullpen that looks increasingly likely to share closer duties, he looks like a keystone in the plan.
Nobody in Detroit's relief corps has as much closing experience as Dotel. For that matter, nobody showed as much versatility in situations last year as he did. He has the potential to pitch anywhere from the seventh to the ninth.
Even after the World Baseball Classic, Dotel has a little catchup work to do before he's ready for that. Ideally, he would get about four outings over the final week-plus of camp. Leyland joked that he'll see how badly Dotel wants those four outings if he sends him to Minor League camp to pitch in a game or two.
Either way, he'll be ready. He's 39, and he knows what he needs to do. Now that he knows the feeling of winning so often over the last couple years, he wants it one more time.
"It's unbelievable, for real," Dotel said. "I'm a champion, I would say. I'm lucky that I've been winning since 2011. I'm pretty much in the playoffs here and in the Dominican and the [World Baseball Classic]. It's something that I thank God [for]. I appreciate it."