Yesterday afternoon Buck Showalter announced that today's starter would not be Miguel Gonzalez as previously planned, but rather Bud Norris, who had been slated to pitch game four. Many possible reasons were thrown around as to why, but whatever the reason, Showalter was right. Showalter is pretty much always right. Norris went out an held the Tigers to just two hits over 6 1/3 shutout innings in the final game of the ALDS. Nelson Cruz added a two-run opposite field home run and the bullpen was clutch again as the Orioles topped the Tigers 2-1 to advance to the American League Championship Series.
YOU GUYS. This happened! The Orioles, picked by many to lose to the Tigers in this round, have not only beaten the Tigers, they have swept the Tigers. They beat Max Scherzer on Thursday. They beat Justin Verlander on Friday. And today, they beat David Price. The rotation of nobodies beat the superstars, and it feels awesome.
Norris's start was not without its bumps, certainly. But when a lineup has the hitters that Detroit's lineup has, bumps are expected. In the first inning he walked Torii Hunter with one out, which is terrifying since the next two batters were Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. But Bud didn't care, he struck them both out.
In the second inning, the Orioles were on the right end of a reviewed play. With Alex Avila on third base and two outs, Andrew Romine dropped a good bunt on the first base side. Jonathan Schoop scooped the ball and shuffled it quickly to Steve Pearce at first place from his glove hand. It was a close, close play and the umpire called Romine out to end the inning. The play was reviewed and there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call. I saw the play from every camera angle TBS had to offer, and it was hard to say either way. I think that if the play on the field had been called safe, it wouldn't have been enough for that to get overturned either. But luckily for the Orioles, the initial call was out.
There was more drama in the third inning, with two uncharacteristically bad throws from shortstop J.J. Hardy. With Don Kelly at second base and one out, Hunter hit a ball into the hole that Hardy fielded. Kelly had gone pretty far off of second base and was diving back so Hardy threw to Schoop covering. The ball didn't stick in Schoop's glove but Kelly couldn't get around the huge mammal that is Jonathan Schoop, so Schoop picked up the ball and tagged him out. Hardy followed that with another bad throw to Schoop on a ground ball by Miguel Cabrera. It flew past Schoop into right field allowing runners to advance to second and third base, but Norris retired Victor Martinez on a fly ball out to end the inning.
Norris had no drama after that. He allowed no hits in the fourth, fifth, or sixth innings, and was finally pulled with one out in the seventh after walking Nick Castellanos. Really, truly an outstanding effort from Bud. He's had a lot of trouble with the Tigers in the past, but that didn't affect him tonight. The terrifying trio of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez went 0-for-9 against him, and he allowed just two hits and two walks. And while David Price pitched very well, he just didn't pitch as well as Norris.
Price allowed exactly one baserunner in each of the first four innings, but the Orioles couldn't do anything with them. He finally got a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, but in the sixth inning the O's got to him. With one out Adam Jones singled to bring Nelson Cruz to the plate, and Cruz did what he's done so many times for the Orioles this year. He hit a ball to the opposite field that went just far enough and stayed just fair enough to be a two-run home run, providing the O's with a 2-0 lead that turned out to be all they needed. He even gave Miguel Cabrera a little lip as he rounded first base, surely payback for all of the smack that Cabrera had been talking the entire series.
When Bud Norris left the game with one out in the seventh, Buck Showalter turned to the team's mid-season acquisition who has been so good this year. Andrew Miller pitched 1 2/3 innings in game one of this series, and did the same tonight. He saw five batters, he retired five batters. The took the Orioles into the ninth inning, just three outs away from the sweep.
It seems almost impossible to keep heart of that Detroit order down for an entire game, and sure enough they roared to life in the bottom of the ninth. Cabrera had been retired to end the eighth, but the Martinezez roughed closer Zach Britton up with back-to-back doubles that brought the Tigers within one run and put the tying run at second base with no outs. Gulp. But Britton quickly struck out catcher Bryan Holaday for the first out (Holaday had replaced Avila due to injury earlier in the game) and after Buck Showalter made the gutsy decision to intentionally walk Nick Castellanos, the potential winning run, Britton got the old 5-4-3 double play to end the game. Orioles win! Orioles win!
The O's get a nice break this week as they start game one of the ALCS on Friday against either the Royals or the Angels. If it's the Royals, the ALCS will begin at Camden Yards; if it's the Angels it will begin in California.