Orioles and Royals to meet in showdown that defies baseball logic

There are all sorts of statistics out there to help you discern who's going to have the advantage in the upcoming American League Championship Series between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, but you know — in your hearts — that none of that stuff matters in the postseason.

If it did, the Los Angeles Angels would be hosting the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 on Friday night.

The ALCS opener will be at Camden Yards and will feature a Cinderella opponent from just outside the Land of Oz because of factors that cannot be appraised with the usual baseball metrics.

Call it karma or mojo or the most overused word in the sports lexicon — destiny. There's going to be at least one team in the World Series this year that will have no logical explanation for its presence on baseball's biggest stage.

The Royals were dead in the water in the AL wild-card game when they set fire to the unwritten rules of baseball and started stealing bases with a four-run deficit in the eighth inning. The Orioles were staring at a firing squad that included three former AL Cy Young Award winners, and it turned out that the Tigers were the ones wearing the blindfolds.

Some things defy explanation and yet seem very real. Just ask Detroit manager Brad Ausmus if he felt like the baseball gods were kicking him in a very sensitive area at every turn over the longest weekend of his baseball career. The Orioles, meanwhile, got every close call and won the deciding game on a home run that should remind their fans of the razor-thin difference between Oriole Magic and whatever is the opposite of that.

No good Orioles fan of a certain age can forget the night that 12-year-old New York Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier reached out of the stands in the right-field corner at the old Yankee Stadium and turned a routine out into a game-saving home run by Derek Jeter. It only took 18 years for some postseason payback when a Tigers fan caught Cruz's 331-foot home run in a similar spot at Comerica Park and then sheepishly dropped it back onto the field.

If that moment wasn't proof that the Orioles have been blessed with that indefinable certain something this year, then the final play of the game should have been. Manager Buck Showalter threw baseball convention to the wind, ordering closer Zach Britton to intentionally walk the potential winning run in the bottom of the ninth and pinch hitter Hernan Perez bounced the next pitch to third baseman Ryan Flaherty to begin a series-ending double play.

Showalter, who has said countless times that momentum is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher, explained after the game that he called for the walk because he wanted to change the "karma" of the inning. So there you have it.

Even the guy who leaves nothing to chance and calculates every move to the fifth decimal conceded that there was something intangible hanging in the air at Comerca Park. The momentum of the series was in danger of shifting, so Showalter made a potentially controversial move to keep the fickle baseball gods at bay.

Oh, he'd tell you that there was all sorts of logic behind it. Britton is a ground-ball pitcher and the chances of getting a ground ball for a double play were about the same as a ground ball getting through the infield to tie the game. He'd probably also tell you that playing for a tie there would be playing to lose, but we all know why the ball found Flaherty and not the grass in left field.

The only question is what happens when an unstoppable intangible force meets an irresistible intangible object.

The Royals have it going on, too. They're a good team with a lot of measurable things going for them, but they stole that victory in the wild-card round, and they found all sorts of ways to confound the winningest team in baseball in their AL Division Series.

They have good starting pitching and a super bullpen. The Orioles have good starting pitching and great relief. The Royals led the major leagues in stolen bases, but hit the fewest home runs. The Orioles led the majors in home runs, but they had the fewest stolen bases.

It's hard to separate them on paper, so the best-of-seven ALCS may come down to who has The Force with them.



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

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