Recalling past playoff series and pitchers posting big innings

Watching David Price plow through the Astros lineup Thursday night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, the clincher for the Red Sox, brought reminders of the 2014 Division Series and how the Orioles bested the veteran left-hander to complete their sweep of the Tigers.

They didn’t dominate him, winning 2-1 and advancing to the ALCS, but they defeated three former Cy Young Award winners in Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer off Price in the sixth inning and Zach Britton wiggled out of a ninth-inning jam to touch off a wild celebration inside the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park.

American beer and French champagne were the perfect complements to manager Buck Showalter’s first postseason series win. He wore it well.

Showalter was at his managerial finest in the American League Division Series, pushing all the right buttons, whether it was deploying Delmon Young as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in Game 2 or ordering Britton to walk Nick Castellanos in Game 3 with the potential tying run on second base and one out in the ninth inning.

Putting the winning run on first was a tremendous gamble, but Showalter told the players who gathered on the mound how it would unfold. How Britton would get a double play grounder to complete the sweep. He made it sound predestined.

“It was short and sweet,” third baseman Ryan Flaherty recalled later that day. “He really said it, just like that. ‘We’re going to walk this guy and the next guy’s going to hit into a double play, and we’re going to go home.’  “

Flaherty fielded pinch-hitter Hernán Pérez’s ground ball and started the 5-4-3 double play that sent the Orioles to the ALCS.

“When you put the winning run on base like that, it takes a lot of guts to do that,” said executive vice president Dan Duquette as the celebration gained momentum around him. “It clearly told everybody Buck was playing to win the series, there and then.”

Showalter downplayed his role, describing himself as “a ship passing in the night.” He lasted through the 2018 season before sinking.

Unfortunately, fans and media are more likely to define Showalter’s playoff reputation by his failure to use Britton in the 2016 wild card game at Rogers Centre, but they shouldn’t forget that day in Detroit. Or a series when Showalter convinced his club that the hardware owned by three opposing starters was irrelevant.

The Orioles closed out the 2018 season with a four-game series against the Astros, a team that sent out three starters - Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole - who worked at least 200 innings.

Showalter wondered whether a previous Orioles team had been in a similar situation with the opposition starting three 200-inning pitchers in the same series. According to STATS, it happened in September 2011 with the Angels’ Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.

Cole worked six innings against the Orioles to finish with 200 1/3 and join the Astros trifecta.

Bundy-Determined-White-Sidebar.jpgDylan Bundy led the Orioles this season with 171 2/3 innings, followed by Andrew Cashner with 153. Both of them made stops on the disabled list. Kevin Gausman and Bundy were the top two in 2017 with 186 2/3 and 169 2/3 innings, respectively.

Gausman also led the Orioles in innings pitched in 2016 with 179 2/3. Wei-Yin Chen logged 191 1/3 in 2015, followed by Ubaldo Jiménez with 184.

The last Orioles pitcher to reach 200 innings? Chris Tillman with 207 1/3 in 2014. He also worked 206 1/3 the previous season.

As we continue to work backward, Jeremy Guthrie totaled 208 innings in 2011, 209 1/3 in 2010 and 200 in 2009. Daniel Cabrera finished with 204 1/3 innings in 2007. Rodrigo López led the Orioles with 209 1/3 innings in 2005 after Sidney Ponson threw 215 2/3 in 2004.

To find a season when the Orioles had multiple pitchers reach 200 innings, you need to go all the way back to 2000 with Mike Mussina (237 2/3) and Ponson (222). The last time they had three pitchers work 200 innings was 1999 with Scott Erickson (230 1/3), Ponson (210) and Mussina (203 1/3).

It also happened in 1997 with Mussina (224 2/3), Erickson (221 2/3) and Jimmy Key (212 1/3); in 1996 with Mussina (243 1/3), David Wells (224 1/3) and Erickson (222 1/3); and in 1992 with Mussina (241), Rick Sutcliffe (237 1/3) and Ben McDonald (227). Go back to 1986 and you’ll find Mike Boddicker (218 1/3), Scott McGregor (203) and Ken Dixon (202 1/3).

That last one surprised me.

Boddicker (261 1/3), Mike Flanagan (226 2/3) and Storm Davis (225) did it in 1984 and the Orioles just missed making it a foursome with McGregor totaling 196 1/3.

The Orioles had four starters exceed 200 innings in 1982, though they were eliminated from the pennant race on the final day, with Dennis Martinez (252), Flanagan (236), Jim Palmer (227) and McGregor (226 1/3). It also happened in 1980 with McGregor (252), Flanagan (251 1/3), Cy Young Award winner Steve Stone (250 2/3) and Palmer (224). And in 1978 with Palmer (296), Flanagan (281 1/3), Martinez (276 1/3) and McGregor (233). And a few other times with those four-man rotations.

The 1977 season was a biggie because Palmer threw 319 innings, followed by Rudy May with 251 2/3, Flanagan with 235 and Ross Grimsley with 218 1/3.

Now, let’s see another team field four 20-game winners in the same season.

Shameless plug alert: I’m appearing on “Wall to Wall Baseball” from 11 a.m.-noon on MASN.

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