DETROIT - The Orioles did the obligatory champagne and beer celebration today after completing their sweep of the Tigers in the American League Division Series with a 2-1 victory at Comerica Park. However, it was muted compared to the craziness at Camden Yards after they clinched the division.
Players hustled into the food room to fill their plates and watch the Royals and Angels in the other ALDS. The Orioles will host Game 1 of the Championship Series on Friday if Kansas City, up 2-0 in games, takes care of business.
The Orioles advance to the ALCS for the 10th time in club history and the first since 1997. They also made it in 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1983 and 1996.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski walked into the Orioles clubhouse and hugged executive vice president Dan Duquette, friends from their days in Montreal. Families lined both walls of the hallway - wives and children on the peripheral of the celebration.
Zach Britton recorded another save, but not until allowing back-to-back doubles to Victor and J.D. Martinez to open the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out, he was instructed to issue an intentional walk to Nick Castellanos that put the potential winning run on base, but also set up the double play.
Britton got the double play, with pinch-hitter Hernan Perez bouncing to third baseman Ryan Flaherty.
The Tigers have a weak bench and bullpen. The Orioles took advantage of both in this series.
“I was pretty nervous up to that point, but I knew if I settled down and gave my defense a chance to turn a double play, they would do it, and that was the only thing through my mind,” Britton said. “One good sinker away and that was my focus.
“I thought that’s what we were going to do anyway before Buck (Showalter) came up, set up the double play. The sinkers they hit were pretty good pitches down in the zone. They’re good hitters and they’re fighting for their lives. They put together some good at-bats. So, I knew if I kind of repeated that pitch, just maybe away from the barrel, that we could get a double-play ball. It was a smart move to walk Castellanos right there.”
The Tigers led the majors with a .277 average in the regular season, but they batted .218 in the ALDS. And they never won a game.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Britton said. “To tame a lineup like that, the way our starting pitchers did - Bud today, coming up in a game like that, first postseason game - I mean, that’s impressive. And then Miller, he just does this every time. I feel like I’m so redundant in praising him, but he’s so good.
“We’re just trying to enjoy this. This is awesome, you know? And somebody just told me this is the first time Buck won a playoff series. Is that right? Which is shocking the way he runs a ballclub. So, we’re going to celebrate this one with him and hopefully it’s not the last one.”
Told that Showalter has never been to the ALCS, right fielder Nick Markakis replied, “Neither have I, so that makes two of us.”
“We’re going to enjoy it. We’ve still got work to do, though,” he said.
“A win’s a win. That’s the way we look at it. A lot of people had us as underdogs, but that just shows you what kind of team we have and what kind of guys we have.”
As for the drama in the bottom of the ninth, Markakis said, “That’s part of the game. We’ve got to get all (27) outs, no matter how we get them. As long as we get them and we’re in the lead, that’s all we care about.
“We know what kind of team they have. They’re not here for no reason. We were just better this series. That’s all you can say.”
The Orioles keep moving forward without Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis. Davis doesn’t figure to be included on the ALCS roster, since his suspension runs another five games.
“That just shows you what kind of ballclub we have and the guys we have in this clubhouse,” Markakis said. “It’s easy to throw 25 guys on a team, but getting 25 guys on the same page and who play well together and become a family is different, and we’ve done a great job doing that here. It’s been awesome.”
Nelson Cruz provided all the scoring for the Orioles with his two-run homer in the sixth inning. He’s got 16 career playoff home runs, tied with Carlos Beltran for ninth on the all-time list.
“He’s been awesome all year,” Markakis said. “That’s the main reason we got him. I played a lot of games against him and he’s done a lot of damage against us. I’m just glad he’s on our team doing the damage now. It’s awesome.”
Norris said he missed Cruz’s home run.
“I really didn’t see it. I was sitting out in the tunnel and I actually saw Nellie and it looked like he only went halfway out of the box, in all honesty and apparently it just stayed fair and I see the dugout erupt,” Norris said. “I find out it is a two-run homer. There’s my cushion and I just want to go right back to work.
“He’s been outstanding. Our MVP for sure. There have been so many guys that have stepped up this year, but what Nelson’s been through in the last couple years and to come into Baltimore and have another outstanding season, you can’t ask for more. He has a postseason pedigree and we are pretty pumped he is on our side.”
Miller followed Norris to the mound and was dominant.
“We got him for a reason,” Norris said. “Everybody knows what he is and his track record proves it. He’s been there before. He’s a big horse out there. He can get multiple outs. Righties, lefties. He does a lot of things you can’t really fathom. We’re excited to have him here with the group. He’s been outstanding with the team and we’re pretty juiced to have him.
“There are so many heads down there, so many guys that can get the job done. They have all year and that’s taken some of the monkey off the back for the starters and the staff. We go as deep as we can and leave it on the field. I’m pretty excited to know they came in and got the job done. A two-run cushion was enough tonight and those guys can do it time in and time out, and they have.”
The Orioles won three games while being opposed by former Cy Young Award winners.
“We figured it would be a long series, you figure probably five games,” Norris said. “It could go with one swing of the bat, one pitch can change the game, but obviously things are on our side right now and a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, who have been there and have all these MVPs and Cy Youngs. Well, it’s a team game, we got it done and we’re pretty excited about today.”
None of the Tigers starters were better than Norris.
“Words can’t describe it right now,” he said. “Just excited to get the opportunity. We have a lot of qualified starters that can go out there. Miggy, me, Chen, Tilly. I was excited to have the opportunity today to clinch. To pitch in this atmosphere and pitch on the road is definitely not easy.
“Nelson with the big swing to get us the two-run lead, that’s a bigger cushion than you need in this ballpark. It held up for us tonight. Passing the ball off to Miller and Britton to close the door. Just a special day. 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. We won’t stop and we’re not done.
“I’m still trying to get more established. Every day you can try and prove something new in this game. That’s all I am trying to do, step up for the Orioles and the organization. And to get to this point, we had a great season but we’re not done.
“I’m excited. I just cant fathom all this right now. We know we’ve got to go back to Baltimore and we’ve got more baseball to play and that’s the best part about it.”
The Orioles won’t return to Baltimore until Monday afternoon. Lots of fans have been asking about it.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy thinks the additional experience on this year’s club has paid off.
“We were relaxed,” he said. “We went out there and relaxed. I think it helped being the underdogs. But this is one step. It’s just going to get more fun.
“I feel like we’re a pretty darn good team. Just kind of shows when you go out there and win three straight against these guys.
“We enjoy being the underdogs, to try and fly under the radar. As long as we can do that, the better.”
Center fielder Adam Jones also is headed to his first ALCS.
“I think we’re all in a little cloud right now,” he said. “We’re enjoying it. We’ll worry about that tomorrow.
“We grind, man. Good things happen when you play as a team.
“It’s a competition and we competed, they competed, we all competed. We were just able to score more runs, you know? I’m not saying we’re better than anybody. It’s a game. You score more runs, you win.”
Steve Pearce, the guy who was let go by the Orioles in April, reached base twice today on a walk and hit batter.
“We played great tonight, we played great all series,” he said. “We always find ways to win. It’s just been that way for us all season. It’s coming from different people. It’s a great feeling to party in here with your teammates.
“We just find way to win no matter who the competition is, who’s on the bump. We find ways to get it done.”