The Orioles struck again in the eighth inning. Unlike Thursday's blowout win, they faced a 6-3 deficit heading into the bottom of the eighth on Friday. Then the Detroit bullpen happened, Delmon Young happened, and most importantly, Orioles Magic happened. Following almost the exact script of struggle from Tigers relievers, the Orioles stormed back with four runs in the inning to take a 7-6 lead. Just like that they were ahead. Their bullpen is not the Detroit bullpen. Zach Britton closed the door and the O's now have a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series.
The improbable win, in front of a raucous crowd of 48,058 in Oriole Park at Camden Yards - 104.5% of capacity - did not look like it would be anything so good early on in the game. Starter Wei-Yin Chen, a lefty, had something of an unfavorable matchup against the righty sluggers of Detroit like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez. That trio made Chen pay the second time through the order, with the heart of the Tigers lineup breaking out for five straight hits, including two home runs.
That put the O's in a 5-2 hole almost before they could blink. The two-run home run that Nick Markakis squeaked out off the top of the grounds crew's shed was erased about as soon as it happened. For a minute there, you had to second-guess manager Buck Showalter in starting Chen. Probably Buck hoped to get two times through the order out of Chen and he only got one. Kevin Gausman was the reliever brought in to hold the line and give the Orioles a chance to come back.
You know something that's nice to have? A reliever coming out of the bullpen who can throw 99 and who, as someone who started in the regular season, is conditioned for multiple innings. Gausman came into the game hurling fireballs, which may have been the plan all along. The Tigers hitters were not ready for him. They were helpless against a lot of that heat. Some of them just had no chance.
Gausman wasn't perfect, though, and he got a little help from his friends. Torii Hunter led off the fifth inning - Gausman's first full inning - with a single. Having a man on base for Cabrera is always a bit nerve-wracking. Goose dialed in and got Cabrera to hit a hard grounder to third. It might have snuck through into the outfield but for a diving stop made by third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who quickly got to his knees and fired to Jonathan Schoop at second base for one out.
Getting one out was nice, but Schoop loaded up his cannon arm and fired to first in time to get the lead-footed Cabrera for a dramatic double play. Baltimore Sun beat writer Dan Connolly quipped on Twitter that Cabrera took almost as long to get off the field as he did running to first base. Earlier in the game, in the middle of the Tigers' five run fourth, Cabrera was taunting the Orioles fans. As my mom would surely say, what goes around, comes around.
Going into this series, it was the trio of Tigers Cy Young winners who represented one of the biggest threats to the O's in the series. On Friday they were up against Justin Verlander, who, while he didn't have as great of a season as his past record, is still Verlander. The O's managed to get his pitch count up enough that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus chose to remove Verlander from the game after Nelson Cruz led off the sixth inning with a single.
With the O's having such success with a starter coming out of the bullpen, it's like Ausmus decided to do the same thing. He brought in Anibal Sanchez, who suffered an injury in August and only threw one MLB inning in September. Sanchez rolled through two quick innings, getting the Tigers into the eighth. Surely, that would be enough, right?
Detroit even added an insurance run in the eighth inning, as Gausman, the second time up against the heart of the Tigers order, had a little slip-up. Hunter and Cabrera both reached, then Victor Martinez hit a double to nearly the deepest part of the park. Off the bat you had to fear it was gone and so were the Orioles' chances. Out in center field, Adam Jones fielded the ball and fired in to cutoff man Schoop, who fired home, where the lumbering Cabrera was headed.
Why would you send Cabrera on this ball? Maybe they didn't consult any scouting reports on the arm of either Jones or Schoop. Whatever it was, Cabrera was cut down at the plate. One run scored on the play, putting the Tigers up to a still-formidable 6-3 lead at that time. Brad Brach came in to relieve Gausman and finished off the inning, but there was still damage done.
Ausmus, it seems, thought that two innings was enough for Sanchez, so he brought in the hideous, bearded mass that is Joba Chamberlain with a three run lead to work with. He couldn't possibly be as bad as last night, after all. Indeed, he retired the first batter he faced, Alejandro De Aza, to lower his ERA from infinity. Then Jones was hit by a pinch, Cruz grounded a single through the 3B-SS hole, and just like that, the tying run was at the plate in the form of Steve Pearce.
One pitch after Pearce was badly fooled by a slider, Pearce took another swing at a slider a little closer to the plate and served it just over the head of Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Jones scored easily on the play. The tying run was on first. That was all she wrote for Chamberlain. He was relieved by Joakim Soria. This is exactly what happened last night.
Things worked out no better for Soria on Friday. He walked the first batter he faced, J.J. Hardy, moving up the tying run to scoring position and, more importantly, loading the bases. Due up was Flaherty, but Showalter instead sent up Young as a pinch hitter. This was the first at-bat Young would get in the series. Young is not here to screw around. He's here to hit baseballs. The very first pitch that he saw from Soria, he took a mighty cut.
It was like a movie going in slow-motion. The ball floated in perfectly to just the right spot. Young brought his bat to the ball perfectly, drove it into left field. Orioles flew around all the bases. Cruz scored. Pearce scored. Hardy raced all the way around from first ahead of the relay throw, sliding safely into home and almost knocking over his teammates like a bowling ball. Just like that, the Orioles were ahead, 7-6, and it was time to warm up Britton to close out the game.
Young now has 21 postseason RBI in his career. It's almost like this was the exact kind of spot for why the O's had him. Showalter maneuvered the chess pieces to get Young in exactly that spot. The Tigers bullpen gave him the chance to do so. Young delivered. Just like they drew it up. Or something like that.
The Orioles carry a 2-0 lead in the series as they head to play two games - if necessary! - in Detroit. There will be at least one more playoff game in Baltimore this year, no matter what. There is an off day on Saturday, which is alright with me, because three straight days can't possibly be this awesome, can they? Now there's a chance to replenish the tank for Sunday.
Game 3 is scheduled to get underway at 3:45pm. Miguel Gonzalez is expected to get the ball for the O's. The Tigers will send out the third of their Cy Young trio, David Price, who will probably feel like he has to throw a complete game to have a chance to win.
After the J.D. Martinez home run sent the Orioles into a 4-2 hole, one of the TBS broadcast crew intoned ominously, "You can't overcome three-run homers." He was wrong. Orioles Magic prevailed.