DETROIT - As Orioles manager Buck Showalter sat down in the interview room following today’s 2-1 victory over the Tigers, a reporter offered congratulations on his first series win.
“Really?” Showalter replied in mock surprise. “I got one in Albany.”
He got a much bigger one in Detroit.
The Orioles swept the Tigers in the American League Division Series, enabling Showalter to reach his first Championship Series.
“They’re all relevant,” Showalter said.
“It feels good. It means we won an opportunity. Some of the guys were talking in there afterwards. I kind of respected that they weren’t over the top. They’ve got a lot to be proud of. It’s a step.”
One that the Orioles hope is pointed toward Camden Yards for Game 1 on Friday. The Royals lead the Angels in Game 3 of their series and are on the verge of a sweep.
“There are different steps during the season that you have to take and this is one of them. And it’s so hard against a team like Detroit with such a great pedigree and experience. It’s a challenge and it will continue to be. But basically what you won is an opportunity to keep rolling the dice.
“Dave Dombrowski came over and I appreciate that. Very classy organization.”
When it was brought up that Showalter has waited a long time for this moment, he again deflected it with cat-like quickness.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s not going to drive my life. That’s not the way I’m going to be defined. The bottom line is what kind of father, your children... It’s not going to be... I haven’t been waiting around like this.
“It’s an honor every day. The thing I’m most excited about is the players getting an opportunity to do this and trying to have an impact on their lives. I mean, I get it. I’m a ship passing in the night. This is fun to watch and believe me, I’m happier than you can imagine. But most of it comes from getting to see the players get what they put into it.”
Asked how his team made it to the ALCS despite the injuries, the change in closers and other challenges, Showalter replied, “It would take a while.”
“Why do you think?” he asked. “I don’t know. We kind of know who we are and never got caught up in the disease of ‘me.’ There is no woe is me. It’s, ‘Where is the next challenge coming?’
“We may not be able to outdo in some other areas, but we can out-opportunity people. A lot of guys took an opportunity and ran with it, so they’re going to get a chance to continue to roll the dice. That’s what this is, a bounce here, a bounce there.
“I know people that aren’t in the arena every day probably got to shake their heads sometimes and say, ‘Why would anybody subject themselves to that?’ But that’s what separates these guys. They want to be there.
“They don’t get to watch it. They want to participate and they want to be put in that cooker, so to speak. That’s what you look for in players.”
Showalter admitted that he had some hesitation in walking Nick Castellanos intentionally in the ninth before getting the series-ending double play.
“Sure I did,” he said. “What do you define ‘hesitation’ as? Nobody’s that smart. Just needed a little karma, change the way that inning was going. Had a lot of faith in Zach (Britton) and there are a lot of factors going on there.
“I just played to the strength of our guys. So I don’t know. You guys can judge conventionality.”
Nelson Cruz is another step closer to returning to the World Series. He remains baseball’s best bargain at $8 million, the latest proof coming with his two-run homer in the sixth that broke a scoreless tie.
“For me and any of the other players to stay healthy is the main thing,” Cruz said. “When you can accumulate that many at-bats, the numbers are going to be there. So for me or any other player to take the number of at-bats as you can, 160 games, the numbers are going to be there.”
The Tigers started three Cy Young Award winners and the Orioles swept the series.
“We count on each other,” Cruz said. “The pitchers are great and that’s what takes us here, and they’re going to take us all the way.
“If you tell me before the series we’re going to sweep, I don’t believe it. They have three great pitchers and they have a great offense, also. And to be able to win three in a row, it was pretty shocking.”
Asked whether he has a preference between playing the Royals or Angels, Cruz replied, “yeah, maybe, because it will be easier to go to Kansas City.”
Executive vice president Dan Duquette traded for Bud Norris and Andrew Miller and signed Cruz as a free agent. They were integral parts of today’s win, with Norris throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings, Miller retiring all five batters he faced and Cruz doing what he usually does in the postseason - especially against Detroit.
“The whole team is the star,” Duquette said. “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 three Cy Young Award winners and our guys came through and made the plays they needed to make. And now we get to play for the pennant.
“We’ve got a lot of good people in the organization and they love the Orioles and they’re very passionate about winning baseball. And now we have a chance to go ahead and prove ourselves.
“They all did their job. Nellie Cruz is a proven postseason hitter and he’s a leader and he showed us the way. Andrew Miller had a great series. He did what he needed to do. He’s got great stuff and he committed to his pitches. And Zach Britton did a great job. The whole club did a great job.
“Buck was playing to win when you put on the winning run with a free pass. That takes a lot of guts to do that and it showed that Buck was playing to win the game.
“We’re proud of the work the guys did, obviously, but I know the group is dedicated to completing the job and we’re looking forward to the LCS.”
Miller was injured last year when the Red Sox won the World Series, so today’s series-clinching win means a little more to him.
“I was fortunate to be included the way I was last year, but ultimately it’s not the same as being out there and contributing. All that I ever asked for is to be a contributing member of a good team, and I feel like I’ve certainly accomplished that.”
The Orioles held a decided bullpen edge over the Tigers. They will be more evenly matched if they play the Royals in the Championship Series.
“Top to bottom, even the guys here on the roster who are labeled as long guys are really good pitchers and could pitch in any situation,” Miller said. “But the back of the bullpen, you’ve got Tommy Hunter pitching in who knows what inning. It’s really top to bottom incredible.
“I told Zach that’s the last time you have to face a hitter that good. He threw the ball really, really well tonight. It’s just that guys are going to get hits and hit the ball, but he was really impressive this entire series. Who hasn’t been out there? We’re all just pieces of the puzzle and trying to fit in.”
Miller said he didn’t take special satisfaction in beating the Tigers, who drafted him before shipping him to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera trade.
“Honestly, not at all,” he said. “My experience in Detroit was great. I loved every minute of it. In some ways I wish it had lasted longer, but there was certainly no fire lit because it was Detroit or any animosity. There was no extra oomph behind anything because it was Detroit. I loved my time here.
“There was plenty of fire because the Orioles are trying to win and I’m trying to be part of that. That’s all I need.”
Miller had strong praise for Norris.
“Oh gosh, he was incredible,” Miller said. “He threw the ball as well as he could against a really good lineup. And he got the guys in the middle out. The guys in the middle of that Detroit lineup are as good as they come. Those are Hall of Fame caliber players and he shut them down pretty good. He was incredible. But it doesn’t surprise me. Whoever we ask to accomplish something in this clubhouse, they do it. Delmon (Young) got the big hit in Game 2. Bud comes out and shoves in Game 3. Somebody seems to step up for this team and that’s what I think it takes to win this time of the year.
“Since August, it seemed like we found a way to win and it just seems like it gets better and better. We won three games in very different ways against a really, really good team. The Tigers probably had World Series victory or bust as their expectation and to go in there and beat a team like that is a really big accomplishment.”
Update: The Orioles have home field advantage through the rest of the postseason after the Royals eliminated the Angels tonight in Kansas City.
Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Friday at Camden Yards, followed by Game 2 on Saturday. The Royals will host Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) on Oct. 13-15. .
Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be played in Baltimore on Oct. 17 and 18.
The Orioles went 3-4 against the Royals this season and were outscored 26-18.
Chris Tillman threw a five-hit shutout on May 16 in Kansas City.
The Orioles’ 3.43 ERA ranked third in the AL, and the Royals’ 3.51 ERA ranked fourth. The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA ranked third and Kansas City’s 3.30 bullpen ERA ranked fifth.