An announced sellout crowd formed a sea of orange throughout the seating bowl of Camden Yards -- waving orange rally towels that said “Welcome to October” -- ready for the return of postseason baseball to Baltimore.
After nearly two weeks of essentially meaningless games since wrapping up the American League East title, the switch suddenly turned onto the bright playoff stage. The Orioles aren't content with just being in the postseason. They're aiming for the franchise's first World Series title in more than three decades.
The first step is an AL Division Series matchup with a Detroit Tigers team that has impressive postseason credentials -- one World Series and a pair of AL Championship Series appearances in the past three years -- as well as a trio of Cy Young Award winners the Orioles would have to face in the series’ first three games.
Despite the comparative mismatch in postseason experience, it was the Orioles that rose to the occasion while cast in the bright playoff spotlight, handing the Tigers a resounding 12-3 thumping in front of a raucous crowd of 47,842 at Camden Yards.
“I don’t care how much you do this, you do feed off this,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the frenzied crowd. “If you don’t get that, you’re way too cold for this time of the year. That was pretty special. It was fun to watch.
“I felt like I wish I had a towel,” Showalter quipped.
The Orioles began their 2014 postseason by dishing out a beating to a Tigers teams that buckled by allowing eight runs in the eighth, turning a one-run game into an all-out rout. The 12 runs the Orioles scored were the most in a postseason game in franchise history.
The Orioles hit two homers off reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, including Nelson Cruz’s 15th career postseason homer in the top of the first. The two teams combined for five homers. Shortstop J.J. Hardy hit his first career postseason home run in the seventh.
And after chasing Scherzer from the game with one runner on base and one out in the eighth, the Orioles scored six runs off Detroit relievers. The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate in the inning, and for the fans who packed Camden Yards, the celebration was on.
With one on and one out in the eighth, the Orioles capitalized on a costly fielding error by Tigers shortstop Andrew Romine, who mishandled a grounder off the bat of Adam Jones, allowing Alejandro De Aza to score from second base to give the club a 5-3 lead.
Seven of the next eight hitters reached base as the Orioles lineup passed the baton down the batting order, hitting three singles, two doubles and getting two walks (one intentional) off Tigers relievers Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria and Phil Coke.
“That’s how we do it,” Jones said. “We don’t care who does it. We just find a way as a team. Top to bottom, anything can happen. Anybody can be the Big Kahuna. … We’re gonna have some fun. We’re not going to sit here and stress with tight tails. We’re not going to have that. We’re going to have fun. It’s a baseball game. Obviously, the importance of the game is a little different, but it’s still a game, so we’re going to treat it like that.”
Right-hander Chris Tillman earned the win in his first postseason appearance. He allowed four hits, including two solo homers in five innings and struck out six batters, including the side in the top of the first.
“I blacked out,” Tillman said of the first inning. “I don’t know. [Catcher] Nick [Hundley] said ‘That was awesome.’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It was cool. It was a lot of fun.”
Tillman was on the postseason roster in the 2012 ALDS, but he didn’t pitch in the series. He said he thought being an observer would prepare him for the moment. He was wrong.
“It was a whole world of difference,” Tillman said. “It was crazy. I thought being there in 2012 would have prepared me a little better, but I think emotions got the best of me early. I talked to Nick. He did a great job of settling me down, and he made the pitch selections to get me back in it.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles tagged Scherzer for five earned runs, the second-most he has allowed in 10 postseason starts. Scherzer also never had allowed two homers in 12 playoff appearances.
“It’s big to get five runs off anybody at this time of the season,” said right fielder Nick Markakis, who was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI in his first career postseason game. "We’ve got Game 1 behind us. We’re focused on tomorrow. We’ve got an early one, and we are going to look to come out and get on top.”
Cruz exorcised any early jitters when he put the Orioles up 2-0 with a two-run shot off Scherzer with two outs in the first inning.
He jumped on the first-pitch delivery from Scherzer, sending it the opposite way into the right-center-field seats for his seventh home run against the Tigers in seven career postseason games against them.
The Tigers -- and Scherzer -- knew Cruz all too well. He hit six homers against Detroit in the 2011 ALCS on his way to winning the series' Most Valuable Player award. Cruz also hit a homer off Scherzer in Game 2 of that series.
Cruz’s 15th career postseason homer tied him with Babe Ruth for 10th all-time. He drove in three runs on the night with an RBI single in the eighth, giving him 30 postseason RBIs.
“I like to enjoy the moment,” Cruz said. “I think, as a player, you want to be in the situation. … I just try to play [the Tigers] like any other team … just try to do my job."
Victor Martinez took a 2-2 pitch from Tillman over the right-field fence and into the flag court. J.D. Martinez followed by taking a 2-1 pitch the opposite way nearly to the same spot.
It marked the first time that players with the same last name hit back-to-back homers since Frank and Brooks Robinson did it for the Orioles in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series.
Much like he has all season long, Tillman was able to emerge from the first two innings having limited the damage. In the regular season, he had a 5.18 ERA in the first two innings of starts and a 2.31 mark from the third inning and beyond.
After allowing the back-to-back homers, Tillman went on to retire 11 straight Detroit batters. But the Tigers elevated his pitch count by extending at-bats with foul balls. Leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler alone saw 30 pitches in three plate appearances, fouling off 16 pitches.
The Orioles took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI bloop single to right by Markakis, who because of missing the 2012 playoffs with a broken thumb went 1,365 career games before making his playoff debut, the third-longest streak among active players.
Tillman loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, allowing back-to-back singles to Romine and Rajai Davis before walking Kinsler after a nine-pitch at-bat. But he induced an inning-ending groundout from Torii Hunter.
That would be Tillman’s final pitch of the night even though he allowed just five base runners -- the four hits and a walk.
“I was pretty frustrated giving up the first lead and the guys came right back out and answered it,” Tillman said. “It was kind of a confidence boost really. It got me back on track, and I was able to execute some pitches later in the game. It helped us out big time."
Though they were called to duty early, the Orioles bullpen -- as they have done all season long – preserved the lead. Andrew Miller retired five of the six batters he faced, overcoming a leadoff walk to reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera in the sixth to retire the next three batters of the inning.
Miller’s slider was filthy. He struck out Victor Martinez on a slider in the dirt to start the seventh and did the same to J.D. Martinez before Alex Avila popped out to end the inning. Miller, acquired from the Red Sox at the trade deadline to bolster the bullpen from the left side, struck out three and didn’t allow a hit in 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“I feel like everybody is clicking right now at the same time,” Miller said. “If you can just get the ball to the next guy, we are going to be in good shape. You trust that you go out there and give it your best until you’re out of gas and Buck asks the next guy to come in.”
Hardy, whose nine homers in the regular season were his fewest since 2010 and hadn’t homered since Aug. 31, led off the seventh with his first career postseason homer when he sent a 1-1 pitch into the Orioles bullpen beyond the left-center-field fence.
The Tigers ran themselves out of a rally in the eighth. Right-hander Darren O’Day opened the inning by allowing a single to Kinsler. But Hunter hit into double play when Hardy caught a line drive at shortstop, then threw to first base to get Kinsler, who was running on the play.
Cabrera rocked O’Day’s next delivery over the right-center-field fence for a solo homer, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Closer Zach Britton then replaced O’Day and retired the only hitter he faced. And after the Orioles took a nine-run lead, Tommy Hunter closed out the ninth as the fans waved their orange towels to the final out.
“Like Buck said, if you don’t feel that, you’re kind of dead,” Cruz said. “It’s amazing to feel the energy of the crowd. … As a player, you want to be in that situation, be in that spotlight.”