DETROIT — Since the moment right-hander Bud Norris joined the Orioles in a trade last July, he has talked about pitching in the playoffs.
The chatty 29-year-old finally received the chance Sunday on a blistery afternoon at Comerica Park against the celebrated Detroit Tigers offense. He seized it, throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 2-1 victory, catapulting the Orioles into a second postseason round — the first time they've reached the American League Championship Series since 1997.
"Words can't describe it right now. Just excited to get the opportunity," said Norris, who was 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA for the Orioles in the regular season. "I'm sure it will set in a little bit later, but I've worked so hard my entire career to get to this point."
Norris hadn't pitched since Sept. 24 against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He didn't learn until the plane ride to Detroit on Friday that he'd be getting the start in the potential clincher Sunday. And then he came up big in his first playoff opportunity.
"He's never pitched a really important game in his career," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Obviously, every game he pitches is important to himself. But this was the first game that he's ever pitched [that was] a team-important game. I think he did quite well."
In one of his better performances of 2014, Norris allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out six.
Only once did he have to fight out of a two-base-runner jam, and that was after one batter reached via an error in the third inning. It was the sixth time this season that Norris has thrown at least six shutout innings in an outing. But this one meant so much more given what was at stake.
"Really happy for Bud," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Just because someone hasn't had the opportunity to do something before doesn't mean they can't do it."
Norris outdueled former Cy Young Award winner David Price — exchanging zeros until Norris was lifted with one out in the seventh after allowing a walk. He had retired 12 in a row before that free pass — although Don Kelly reached on a wild pitch after a third strike during Norris' streak. Left-handed relievers Andrew Miller and Zach Britton secured his first postseason win.
"That was impressive. He wanted to be the guy for us today, and we had confidence he could do it," Britton said of Norris. "When he is on the mound, he is one of the more confident guys that I've ever played with, and that's what you need in a game like this."
Norris made his debut with the Houston Astros in 2009 and had never played on a winning team — he was part of three, 100-loss clubs in Houston —before he was dealt to the Orioles in July 2013 for outfielder L.J. Hoes, minor league pitcher Josh Hader and a competitive balance draft pick.
The second half of last season isn't what Norris envisioned; he had a 4.80 ERA in 11 games with the Orioles and came into spring training this year with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to prove that he was better than what he showed in 2013, that he deserved to be a viable member of the rotation and that his teammates could count on him when needed.
Norris was needed Sunday. And he rewarded the confidence of his manager and his teammates.
"I hope so. I am still trying to get more established. Every day you can try and prove something new in this game," Norris said. "That's all I am trying to do, step up for the Orioles and the organization."