Inspired by Taylor Swift re-releasing her own songs as (Taylor’s version), Camden Chat writers will be spending the rest of 2023 re-releasing some Orioles game recaps and giving them better endings. Fresh off a heroic ALDS win over the Detroit Tigers, the Orioles needed to set the tone against a pesky Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. It didn’t work out, quite, but here let’s imagine another way that the events of October 10, 2014 could have gone...
The chant these days in Baltimore may be “We won’t stop,” but surely the Orioles could have spared their fans’ nerves and wrapped up a win in nine innings or less? No? Whatever. A win is a win. Facing the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Baltimore starter Chris Tillman put his team into a 4-0 hole, but the Orioles tied the game in the sixth inning and won it, 6-5, in the tenth, ALDS hero Delmon Young coming through once again with the game winner.
The Orioles entered this series with a big head of steam, fresh off a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS. That entailed racking up wins against a Tigers starting rotation consisting of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price. In Game 2, Baltimore overcame a lackluster outing by Wei-Yin Chen, when, down 6-3 with the bases loaded in the eighth, designated hitter Delmon Young delivered one of the greatest moments in Birdland history. In Game 3, a two-run home run by Nelson Cruz broke a scoreless tie in the sixth, and with the winning run on base in the ninth, closer Zack Britton got Hernan Perez to ground into a game-ending double play to give the Orioles their first ALCS appearance in 17 years.
That was then. If the Tigers were power hitters with a stacked starting rotation, the Kansas City Royals—a team it feels impossible to describe as anything but “pesky”—have little to write home about, power-wise, with their MLB-lowest 95 home runs, but they made up for it with plenty of foot speed (an MLB-best 153 stolen bases) and one of the best bullpens in the game, led by a backend trio of Wade Davis (396 ERA+), Greg Holland (46 saves, 1.44 ERA), and Kelvin Herrera (12 saves, 1.41 ERA).
The point is: you don’t want to fall behind against a team like this that will harass you with runners and bloop singles and shut down your bats late in the game.
Unfortunately, on Friday night, in Game 1 of the ALCS, played before a home crowd of 47,124, it appeared that the Orioles would do just that. Team ace Chris Tillman was working on a week of rest, but if he felt good ‘n rested, he didn’t show it. Getting knocked around early, Tillman allowed a single in each of his first two innings before sustaining real damage in the third.
It started with a 2-0 meatball to Alcides Escobar, who’d hit all of three home runs the whole season. The Royals shortstop socked the Tillman offering over the fence to put his team up 1-0. A walk, strikeout and two singles later, Alex Gordon blew open the game with a bases-clearing bloop double to right (it wasn’t really Tillman’s fault, but them’s the breaks).
Undeterred, the O’s wasted no time in mounting a comeback against Royals right hander James Shields. Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the inning with a double, and Adam Jones laced an RBI single to left to plate his outfield bestie, cutting the deficit to 4-1.
This wasn’t the Chris Tillman who’d led the American League in starts with 34, finishing the season with a 13-6 record and a 3.34 ERA. Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain led off the fifth inning with a double to center, took third on a groundout, and scored on a sac fly by Billy Butler. Butler’s sac fly came off Orioles right hander Tommy Hunter, actually, Tillman having been lifted after 4 1/3 innings and five earned runs. Sometimes, as you’ll remember, Tommy Hunter goes “boom.” Hunter threatened to here, allowing a single to Alex Gordon after that. But Hunter cleverly picked off Gordon at first, ending the threat.
Baltimore responded with three more runs in the bottom half of the frame to bring the score to 5-4. Nelson Cruz doubled off Shields to score Alejandro De Aza, and Ryan Flaherty followed with a big two-run single to right.
With the Royals last in home runs during the regular season and the Orioles first (their 211 team bombs outpacing runner-up Toronto by over 30), of course it would be small ball that would give the Orioles the tie in the sixth. And if we’re being fair, it was accidental small ball: Jonathan Schoop walked, moved to second on a Markakis single (the outfielder’s third hit of the game) and got credit for a steal of third when he leaned early, went for third a little late, but the throw bounced off his back, anyway. Then De Aza flared a little bloop over the mound to bring Schoop home for a 5-5 tie.
Buck Showalter was not treating this like an ordinary game, so in relief of Hunter came rookie Kevin Gausman, who’d put up a 3.47 ERA that year in 20 starts. The unseasoned righty skated through the sixth but allowed a leadoff walk in the seventh. Royals manager Ned Yost put in pinch runner Jarred Dyson, but after a little cat-and-mouse with Gausman, Dyson took off for second. The Birds, especially Jonathan Schoop, were ready: Dyson slid past the bag, Schoop held the tag, and Dyson was out.
Both bullpens locked down at that point. Midseason star acquisition for Baltimore, the gigantic and loopy Andrew Miller kept Kansas City off the board in the seventh and eighth, but the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis did the same thing to Baltimore.
Things came to a head in the ninth inning—well, almost. Zack Britton, in just his first year as a full-time closer, nearly walked the Royals to victory by completely losing the strike zone for a time. He walked the first three batters he faced, giving KC a bases-loaded, no-out scoring opportunity. Things seemed headed for a meltdown. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, looking stony-faced in the dugout, had right-hander Darren O’Day warming up in the pen—but suddenly, Britton gave him no chance to make the switch. Eric Hosmer grounded out, a Steve Pearce throw home cutting down the runner, then Britton—gifted one more chance—induced the timeliest of double plays from right-handed designated hitter Billy Butler. Baltimore was somehow out of the inning unscathed.
To be sure, the Orioles did nothing in the bottom of the ninth, blown away by setup man Wade Davis, who struck out the side (De Aza, Jones and Cruz) to send the game to extras.
Now, with Kansas City sending up two lefties in Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, asking the lefty Britton for some extra length looked a lot better than it had during the ninth. Britton, still a little challenged for command that night, allowed a walk to Salvador Pérez. But this time it was sandwiched between a strikeout and a pair of groundouts by the lefties Gordon and Moustakas. The Royals wouldn’t score again, that inning or the rest of the game.
Cut to the bottom of the tenth. Delmon Young, apparently feeling insecure about his claim to being the best Orioles pinch-hitter ever, came to the plate against closer Greg Holland with two outs and Ryan Flaherty and Jimmy Paredes on first and second. Another high-stakes scoring situation in the 2014 postseason, another clutch Delmon Young RBI single. A base knock to center plated “Flash” Flaherty, and the Orioles had sewn up a Game 1 victory.
Good thing, too. This was just the 14th time in history that LCS Game 1 has gone to extras, and in the previous 13, the winning team went on to win the series. The Birds will get about 15 hours off before Game 2, scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday at Camden Yards. Royals rookie Yordano Ventura takes the mound opposite Baltimore’s Bud Norris, announced as the Game 2 starter shortly after Game 1. Buck Showalter, playing mind games again? Either way, Norris deserves the chance: he threw 6 1/3 shutout innings to shut down the Tigers and help give his team the Division Series win.
Who was the Most Birdland Player of the 2014 ALCS, Game 1 (Camden Chat’s version)?
This poll is closed
Nick Markakis (3-for-6)
Zack Britton (2 clutch innings)
Ryan Flaherty (3-for-5, two-run 1B, game-winning run)
Delmon Young (1-for-1, game-winning RBI in the 10th)