Orioles guarantee postseason return to Camden Yards

The Orioles packed their bags and headed to Detroit late Friday afternoon, but it was clear that they were in no hurry to leave the orange embrace of the fans in Baltimore or the surreal environment that enveloped Camden Yards during the first two games of their American League Division Series.

"I've been in World Series … I've been in the World Baseball Classic … I've been in the All-Star Game, and I never heard nothing like this," said Game 1 hero Nelson Cruz. "It was so loud, my ears were ringing. I couldn't be more excited."

Of course, he was referring to the magical moment when Delmon Young lashed a three-run double that brought the Orioles from behind, and the final out of the game that guaranteed the playoffs would return to Camden Yards. That would be either next Wednesday, if the Orioles cannot get the decisive third victory in Detroit, or a few days later in the AL Championship Series.

The way things have been going, it's hard to imagine that the Tigers will be able to stay alive long enough to force the series back to Baltimore, but the Orioles will be going from their friendly confines to an environment as hostile as the one the Tigers faced during the first two games here.

They'll also have to face two more terrific starting pitchers, but that can't seem quite so intimidating after the way they handled the two Cy Young Award winners at the head of the Tigers starting rotation.

The formula was the same for both games, and it figures to be the same at Comerica Park: Hang tough against left-hander David Price in Game 3 and wait for an opportunity to break the game open against the Tigers' beleaguered bullpen.

"We just have to keep doing the same things we've been doing — battle every pitch, battle every at-bat — and not look ahead," Cruz said. "We just try to stay focused and stay in the moment."

The Orioles have fully exploited their home-field advantage and now must make good on their hard-earned reputation for being one of the best road teams in the major leagues. They lost two of the three games they played in Detroit this season, but that was six months ago, before they developed the tough shell that has carried them past so much adversity.

"It's baseball, man," said center fielder Adam Jones, who exemplified that toughness by taking a pitch off his leg to start the Orioles' big rally in the eighth inning Friday. "Who cares where you've got to play? You just got to play. I don't have the answer for it. I just know we grind it out no matter how at home and on the road."

Experience certainly won't be an issue. Cruz, the big bopper in Game 1, was the Most Valuable Player of the ALCS in 2011 while he was with the Texas Rangers. Young, who came off the bench to deliver one of the most dramatic hits in Orioles postseason history on Friday, was the MVP of the 2012 ALCS for the Tigers. You don't win that kind of hardware by being intimidated by a hostile crowd.

Closer Zach Britton, who retired the final three Tigers batters to record his first-ever postseason save, said the Orioles feel comfortable in whatever environment they find themselves because of the way the team has been prepared by manager Buck Showalter.

"It comes down from Buck," he said. "It's just a very even-keel team. We've played in some big environments, and I think the last road trip we had in New York with everything going on with [Derek] Jeter, that crowd I think really helped us going into the postseason."

He conceded, however, that it's impossible to know what to expect in Detroit.

"We've played some games there when there's a soldout crowd, but I think you just turn it up a notch," Britton said. "I don't know what it's going to feel like. You just hope that you can kind of take what happened today and that emotion and maybe channel it a little bit."

Maybe the bigger question is what Orioles fans are going to do with all that energy while they wait at home for the team to come back for its next postseason game.

"This is so awesome, to be here and see people going insane like this," said Matthew Pace, 25, of Brooklyn Park. "Make no mistake, this is a baseball city first. And you're seeing that now."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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