The Baltimore Orioles lost five out of six games to the Detroit Tigers during the regular season, including being swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards May 12-14. However, the Orioles have become a different team since the first two months of the season, and it showed against the A.L. Central champions.
Detroit didn’t wrap up their division title until the last day of the regular season on Sept. 28. Four days later, they found themselves facing a raucous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 48,000. It didn’t take long for perhaps the Tigers’ biggest nemesis to land another body blow against them in October.
In the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, right fielder Nick Markakis led off as he did so often during the season: with a single. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza was hit by a pitch, and center fielder Adam Jones hit into a fielder’s choice, getting Markakis to third with one out. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz came up, and drilled a first-pitch fastball over the grounds crew’s shed to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and launch the crowd into a frenzy. Cruz hit .364 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in during the 2011 American League Championship Series to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 series win and their second straight World Series appearance. Detroit answered in the top of the second with back-to-back homers by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. However, the Orioles came right back and retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drew a walk with one out, and went to third on a two-out single by Jonathan Schoop. That turned the lineup over for Markakis, who singled to right to drive in Flaherty and give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. That score held through the middle innings, which saw starter Chris Tillman leave after throwing 105 pitches in five innings thanks to a lot of pitches that were fouled off. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 of the 30 pitches he saw from Tillman. In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd roared to life again when shortstop J.J. Hardy drove a 1-1 change-up into the left-center field bleachers to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead. That home run, along with a line drive double play the Orioles turned in the eighth, would loom large after two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer to right center to cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3. That led to a bottom of the eighth that would turn the tide for the rest of the series.
The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, and scored eight runs to turn a close game into a blowout. Schoop hit a two-run double, and De Aza capped the outburst by also hitting a two-run double, his second two-bagger of the inning, to make it 12-3.
In Game 2, Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer off the top of the grounds crew shed in the third inning. The homer off Justin Verlander was upheld after a Detroit challenge. The Tigers responded by scoring five runs in the fourth to knock Wei-Yin Chen out of the game. J.D. Martinez had the big blow with a three-run homer, and Nick Castellanos followed with a home run of his own. Hardy hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3.
In the top of the eighth, Victor Martinez hit an RBI double to make it 6-3 Tigers, but Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Jones was hit by a pitch, and Cruz singled. Jones scored on Steve Pearce’s single. Hardy walked to load the bases, and on the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joakim Soria, pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a bases-clearing double to the left-field wall, scoring all three runners to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead and sending another standing-room-only crowd into delirium. Zach Britton retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up the save and send the Orioles off to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
In Game 3, Cruz once again made his presence felt, hitting a two-run homer off David Price to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and send a subdued Detroit crowd into dead silence. In his postseason career, Cruz now has a .353 average with 8 homers and 22 RBI against Detroit. The Tigers didn’t score until the bottom of the ninth, when Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez started the inning with back-to-back doubles. Castellanos was intentionally walked, and then pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hit into a double play to end the game and the series, sending the Orioles into the ALCS for the first time since 1997.
The Orioles will be facing a Royals team that they went 3-4 against during the season. The Royals walked off with a 9-8 win over Oakland in 12 innings on Sept. 30, and then defeated the Angels twice in 11 innings in Anaheim on the way to a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS will be at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 10, followed by Game 2 at 4:07 p.m. the next day. The series will shift to Kansas City for Games 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Games 6 and 7 will be at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 in Baltimore.