With 7-6 comeback win over Tigers, Orioles have chance to sweep Sunday
By By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun|
Oct 03, 2014 | 8:25 PM
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about Delmon Young and his consistency at the plate during the season. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Think for a second about postseason heroes in Orioles history.
Once you move past the Brooks Robinsons, Frank Robinsons, and Rick Dempseys of franchise lore, there's another pantheon reserved for guys who will never end up in the club's Hall of Fame, but provided a moment of excellence in October so crucial, so memorable that they should never ever have to buy a beer in town again.
Move over Moe Drabowsky, Tito Landrum and Jeff Reboulet. Delmon Young has just joined your ranks.
With a pinch-hit, three-run double in the bottom of the eighth in the Orioles' 7-6 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon, Young put his club ahead, 2-0, in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
Or maybe it was Bruce Lee, the late martial arts legend, who came up so monumentally big at Camden Yards before a screaming, chanting, announced sellout crowd of 48,058.
"We call him Bruce Lee. He doesn't lose a fight," Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz said of Young. "Every time he comes up, he delivers."
Young, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles in January, is now an incredible 11-for-21 (.524) in a pinch-hitting role this year. Before 2014, he was just 6-for-29 (.207) in his career as a pinch hitter, including 0-for-2 in the postseason. This is the sixth straight year that he has been in the playoffs, the longest active streak in the major leagues.
"I'm always comfortable in the batter's box," said Young, who was the 2012 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player for the Tigers and has 21 RBIs in 34 career postseason games. "It doesn't matter whether I haven't had a hit in a while or I'm 10-for-10. You've got to feel comfortable."
Heading into the bottom of the eighth Friday, the Orioles were down, 6-3, and on the brink of heading to Detroit with the series even at 1-1. They had been shut down for the previous two innings by right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who replaced starter Justin Verlander with a 5-3 lead after five innings.
Instead of sticking with Sanchez — an effective starter who was moved to relief in late September to help solidify a shaky bullpen — for a third inning, Detroit rookie manager Brad Ausmus decided not to push Sanchez's pitch count past 30. So he brought in right-hander Joba Chamberlain, who struggled to a near 5.00 ERA in the second half of this season. The Orioles fans, literally, cheered the move. The ovation was prescient.
For the second game in a row, the eighth inning proved to be the Detroit bullpen's undoing.
After Chamberlain retired Alejandro De Aza on a groundout to lead off the inning, he hit Adam Jones with a pitch. Cruz and Steve Pearce followed with singles, and Jones scored on Pearce's hit to make it 6-4. Ausmus then replaced Chamberlain with Joakim Soria, who walked J.J. Hardy on five pitches to load the bases.
Young didn't waste any time, slapping a 79-mph slider from Soria (0-1) into left field for a bases-clearing double. Hardy raced around third base and, while sliding, skimmed the plate with his left hand just before the tag. Young stood at second base and clapped his hands while the stadium erupted.
"I never heard nothing like this," Cruz said. "It was so loud. My ears were ringing."
Up to that point, the Tigers seemingly had the game under control. The Tigers' right-handed-heavy lineup scored five runs in 3 2/3 innings against Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced before a disastrous fourth.
Chen allowed five straight hits, including a three-run homer to J.D. Martinez and a solo shot to rookie Nick Castellanos on the next pitch. It was the second straight game that Martinez had been involved in back-to-back homers.
Chen hadn't allowed multiple home runs in his last 16 starts. He hadn't given up this many runs or had a shorter outing since June 28.
"Wei Yin was real good for three innings, as good as you want to see and flattened out there in the end," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Plus those guys are great hitters. I don't care who you pitch."
Rookie Kevin Gausman entered in the fourth and pitched superbly in relief, allowing just one run while striking out five. He also retired nine of his first 10 batters. The only one that reached — Torii Hunter with a leadoff single in the fifth — was erased on a tremendous double play set up by third baseman Ryan Flaherty's diving stab of a ground ball by Miguel Cabrera. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop made a great catch and throw to get Cabrera trudging to first.
"Right when [Flaherty] dove, I thought, 'Maybe, all right, we'll get the lead runner and with Schoopy's arm, I feel like we always have a chance,'" Gausman said. "So it was a pretty big play for us."
Cabrera, who has been hampered by an ankle injury, walked slowly off the field after the double play and was booed by Orioles fans for his deliberate pace.
It was the second time the reigning AL MVP induced crowd reaction. After crossing the plate on Martinez's home run in the fourth, Cabrera demonstratively pointed to a section of Tigers fans — which included supermodel Kate Upton, the girlfriend of Verlander. Orioles fans responded with loud boos and Cabrera jawed a little with some orange-clad fans above the visitors' dugout.
Gausman lasted 3 2/3 innings, and struck out five in his first postseason game. The only run he allowed came in the eighth on an RBI double by Victor Martinez. Cabrera tried to score from first on the play but was easily thrown out at home plate on a relay throw from Jones to Schoop to catcher Caleb Joseph.
The Orioles scored three runs against Verlander, who threw 101 pitches and allowed six hits. Nick Markakis, who was playing in just his second postseason game in a nine-season career, gave the Orioles their first lead with a two-run homer to right field in the third inning. It was his third hit in six playoff at-bats, and it barely made it out of the ballpark.
The ball landed just on the top of the grounds' crew shed in right field — it may have even hit the door hinge at the corner — and was initially ruled a home run. After a two-minute, 36-second video review, the call was upheld. The Orioles scored again in the fourth on an RBI single by Hardy.
After Gausman was removed in the eighth, Brad Brach (1-0) induced two flyouts to strand a runner at second base, and Zach Britton recorded his first postseason save with a perfect ninth.
The Orioles now have a chance to finish off the AL Central-winning Tigers with a victory Sunday at Comerica Park.
They have the opportunity because Young has continued his pinch-hitting magic this season after not having a lot of success in the role in the past. Like many things this season, the Orioles aren't questioning why it has happened; they're just glad it has.
"It's OK for me to say I don't know. I don't know [why]," Showalter said. "He keeps doin' it, and we keep giving him an opportunity. That's pretty easy."