If anyone forgot that the Orioles were supposed to hold the advantage over the Tigers in bullpens and defense in the American League Division Series, tonight provided a sharp reminder.
Sharp enough to carve out a 1-0 series lead.
The Orioles scored eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, their largest total of the season, and took advantage of a huge error by shortstop Andrew Romine in a 12-3 rout before 47,842 at Camden Yards.
Fans waved orange towels all night. The Tigers were ready to throw in the proverbial towel as the Orioles kept rounding the bases and manager Brad Ausmus kept going to his beleagured ‘pen.
The 12 runs are a franchise record for a playoff game. As I noted in my last blog entry, the Orioles totaled 10 runs in the entire 2012 Division Series against the Yankees.
“Obviously, they’re very potent offensively and every run you can score, you need to make use of that opportunity, but I don’t think you ever this time of year feel comfortable with anything,” said manager Buck Showalter.
“We strung together a lot of good at-bats and gave us some margin for error.”
The biggest error came from Romine, who mishandled Adam Jones’ bouncer up the middle in the eighth. Alejandro De Aza scored from second base and the floodgates swung open.
The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate. Ausmus sent three pitchers to the showers, including starter Max Scherzer. I was waiting for him to signal for Willie Hernandez.
“That’s a tough play,” Showalter said of the Romine error. “He’s got a tweener hop with somebody who can run. You could have scored it either way, I guess. I thought Alejandro and Bobby Dickerson were very opportunistic there in taking advantage of that because a lot of guys, first of all coming over on the ball to start with, a lot of guys are passive and stay there.
“That was a great read from him and also there are a lot of runners who don’t give a third base coach a chance to send you there.”
Showalter used his bullpen in postseason fashion. Andrew Miller entered in the sixth, early for him, and went 1 2/3 innings - only the fourth time as an Oriole that he worked more than one. His 32 pitches tied his season-high set back on April 16.
Zach Britton was brought into the game with two outs in the eighth, and he would have returned for the ninth if not for the marathon inning. The plan called for him to record a four-out save.
“Things change,” Showalter said. “It’s the postseason. We talked to them since the season was over about how this was going to work. There aren’t guys strolling down there after the fifth inning like some of them do. The way we have normally used them, they know that it’s all hands on deck. And I just felt like that spot in their order was good for Andrew and the next group of guys was good for Darren (O’Day). And I knew Zach would pitch the eighth inning.
“A lot of it had to do with the Detroit Tigers and making Chris (Tillman) work so hard for it. A lot of it had to do with they had three or four days off and were ready to go multiple innings. All those things through the year where you don’t get them up and not bring them in a game, you’re not double-barreling them and everything, this is the time of the year when you’re able to reap some of those benefits. But the bottom line is they’re good pitchers. When you have more than one good relief pitcher, you can do that. If not, you’re trying to... Believe me, I’d like to see Tilly pitch seven innings. He has the stuff to do it with, but they wouldn’t let him do it.”
Tillman made it through the fifth on 105 pitches and got the win. He retired his last batter, Torii Hunter, to leave the bases loaded.
“I think he threw strike three to (Ian) Kinsler and didn’t quite get the call, one of those borderline things,” Showalter said. “Of course, I’m biased about it. But he doesn’t wallow around. And he’s smart enough to know that’s his last hitter and he emptied the tank that inning.
“I’ve been real proud to watch him come along as a pitcher for us and as a teammate.”
Nick Markakis, in his first playoff game, collected hits in his first two at-bats and drove in a run. It was a moment appreciated by everyone in the home dugout.
“Everybody got it,” Showalter said. “There are so many unspoken things. Just a look at each other. With Nick and a lot of our guys, there’s just so many little things you want to step back and take in. He may not wear it on his sleeve, but trust me, there’s a lot of burn underneath him in a good way.
“He’s a poster. He posts up. He’s a consistent human being, a consistent father and husband. He’s just consistent in his life, a guy you can count on.”
Camden Yards was rocking all night and the decibel level skyrocketed in the eighth.
“I kept waiting for them to open the gates during BP,” he said. “We were getting ready to invent another group to hit. But that was fun when everybody came in.
“I don’t care how much you do this, you do feed off this. If you don’t get that, then you’re way too cold for this time of year. That’s pretty special. That was fun to watch. I felt like I wish I had had a towel.”
The Tigers wish they could figure out a way to retire Nelson Cruz, who hit a two-run homer in the first and added an RBI single in the eighth. He’s got seven homers and 16 RBIs against them in seven career playoff games.
Cruz became the first Orioles player with three or more RBIs in a postseason game since Brady Anderson had three on Oct. 2, 1997 in the Division Series.
“I just tried to play like any other team,” Cruz said. “It’s nothing against the Tigers or any other team. Just try to do my job.”
Cruz has hit 15 postseason home runs, tied with Babe Ruth for 10th on the all-time list. Ruth’s came in the World Series, of course.
“It’s just that I like to enjoy the moment,” Cruz said. “I think as a player, you want to be in the situation. And you know, there’s no reason. I like to enjoy it.”
Cruz senses that the Orioles are built for a deep run in the playoffs.
“No doubt,” he said. “I think we’re built to play good defense. We’ve also got great pitchers and one of the best bullpens in the league. So, late in the game if we’ve got the lead, we’ve got a pretty good chance to win the game.”
Cruz received one of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions, and he kept the crowd on its feet with his home run.
“Like Buck said, if you don’t feel that, you’re kind of dead,” Cruz said, drawing laughter from the room.
“It’s amazing to feel the energy of the crowd in the stadium. As a player, you want to be in that situation, in that spotlight. No doubt, they would bring that energy every game that we play here.”