Orioles celebrate, but it's clear they have bigger party in mind

DETROIT -- The Orioles sprayed beer and champagne at each other for the second time this season, but it was almost like they were going through the motions after Sunday's heart-stopping victory over the Detroit Tigers propelled them into the American League Championship Series.

Their division title celebration was more intense because it was the culmination of a terrific regular season. This time, there was the sense in the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park that the postseason had only just begun.

"This was a hurdle," said center fielder Adam Jones. "It wasn't the race."

The race continues on Friday with the start of the best-of-seven ALCS, which will be another big test of a team that has passed so many already. The Orioles lost three of their best players over the past five months, which is one of the reasons they were considered a slight underdog in the best-of-five division series.

There was another big reason and it was the fact that the Tigers could line up the last three American League Cy Young Award winners in the first three games of the series. That was more than just a hurdle. It was a mountain that not many people outside the Orioles' clubhouse could have imagined being conquered so decisively.

They beat Tigers ace Max Scherzer in Game 1 and they outlasted Justin Verlander to send a sellout crowd at Orioles Park into absolute ecstasy in Game 2 on Friday. David Price pitched very well for eight innings Sunday to keep the explosive Tigers bullpen behind the left field fence, but this night belonged to Bud Norris, who gave up just two hits over 6 1/3 shutout innings to get his first postseason victory.

"We didn't exactly beat up on them," manager Buck Showalter said. "They did what they do and you don't match them. You try to stay engaged with their starters and hope you can grind them enough where some other situations might present themselves, They did their job."

Showalter took one of those situations in hand when things got dicy in the bottom of the ninth inning, ordering closer Zach Britton to deliver an intentional walk to put the winning run on first base with just one out. That took the kind of nerve — and confidence — that has characterized Showalter's tenure in Baltimore. He went for the win instead of protecting a tie. Simple as that.

"Just needed a little karma," he explained later.

He must have already known that the Orioles have a ton of that right now and certainly will not be underestimated when they enter the next phase of baseball's four-tiered postseason tournament. They proved they can pitch with anyone and they showed again that they possess a special kind of winning chemistry that defies statistical comparison.

The deciding game was a nine-inning testimonial to the machinations of baseball operations chief Dan Duquette, who traded for winning pitcher Bud Norris last year, acquired key setup reliever Andrew Miller this past July and signed 2014 major league home run king Nelson Cruz to a bargain free agent contract last spring. Cruz, of course, drove in both runs with a two-run homer, but what else is new?

"The whole team is the star," said Duquette. "It's a ballclub that has a lot of good players and they played really well against Detroit. I mean, we just beat the last Cy Young Award winners and our guys came through and made the plays they needed, so now we get to play for the pennant."

Maybe he always believed that the team he put together would win the American League East in a walk and sprint past a historically impressive Tigers starting rotation. Duquette has built winning teams before, but not one like this. He built it under the preseason assumption that he would have an All-Star catcher and a Platinum Glove third baseman for most of the year and had to scramble when Matt Wieters went down with a season-ending elbow injury and Manny Machado suffered a second serious knee injury in August.

The Chris Davis drug suspension was one last setback before the playoffs ... one last bit of adversity for this unflappable team to shrug off on its way to its first ALCS since 1997.

Davis apparently will have to wait until at least the World Series — if this Orioles season continues that far into October — to play another game in an Orioles uniform. The Orioles won the ALDS too quickly to make it practical to consider him for the ALCS roster, since he will be ineligible for five more games.

They haven't missed him.

They haven't missed a trick.

The celebration was muted on Sunday because there is more work to be done and, clearly, the Orioles think they're the guys to do it.

“It’s just a special day," Norris said. “I’m sure it’ll set in a little bit later, but I’ve worked so hard my entire career to get to this point and, like I said, we won’t stop and we’re not done. … We know we’re going back to Baltimore, and we’ve got more baseball to play, and that’s the best part about it.”

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

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