Orioles to Face Hot Royals in ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles lost five out of six games to the Detroit Tigers during the regular season, including being swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards May 12-14. However, the Orioles have become a different team since the first two months of the season, and it showed against the A.L. Central champions.

Detroit didn’t wrap up their division title until the last day of the regular season on Sept. 28. Four days later, they found themselves facing a raucous standing-room-only crowd of nearly 48,000. It didn’t take long for perhaps the Tigers’ biggest nemesis to land another body blow against them in October.

In the bottom of the first inning of Game 1, right fielder Nick Markakis led off as he did so often during the season: with a single. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza was hit by a pitch, and center fielder Adam Jones hit into a fielder’s choice, getting Markakis to third with one out. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz came up, and drilled a first-pitch fastball over the grounds crew’s shed to give Baltimore a 2-0 lead and launch the crowd into a frenzy. Cruz hit .364 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in during the 2011 American League Championship Series to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 series win and their second straight World Series appearance. Detroit answered in the top of the second with back-to-back homers by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. However, the Orioles came right back and retook the lead in the bottom of the inning.

Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drew a walk with one out, and went to third on a two-out single by Jonathan Schoop. That turned the lineup over for Markakis, who singled to right to drive in Flaherty and give the Orioles a 3-2 lead. That score held through the middle innings, which saw starter Chris Tillman leave after throwing 105 pitches in five innings thanks to a lot of pitches that were fouled off. Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 of the 30 pitches he saw from Tillman. In the bottom of the seventh, the crowd roared to life again when shortstop J.J. Hardy drove a 1-1 change-up into the left-center field bleachers to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead. That home run, along with a line drive double play the Orioles turned in the eighth, would loom large after two-time A.L. Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera hit a solo homer to right center to cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-3. That led to a bottom of the eighth that would turn the tide for the rest of the series.

The Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate, and scored eight runs to turn a close game into a blowout. Schoop hit a two-run double, and De Aza capped the outburst by also hitting a two-run double, his second two-bagger of the inning, to make it 12-3.

In Game 2, Markakis opened the scoring with a two-run homer off the top of the grounds crew shed in the third inning. The homer off Justin Verlander was upheld after a Detroit challenge. The Tigers responded by scoring five runs in the fourth to knock Wei-Yin Chen out of the game. J.D. Martinez had the big blow with a three-run homer, and Nick Castellanos followed with a home run of his own. Hardy hit an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-3.

In the top of the eighth, Victor Martinez hit an RBI double to make it 6-3 Tigers, but Cabrera was thrown out at the plate. In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Jones was hit by a pitch, and Cruz singled. Jones scored on Steve Pearce’s single. Hardy walked to load the bases, and on the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joakim Soria, pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a bases-clearing double to the left-field wall, scoring all three runners to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead and sending another standing-room-only crowd into delirium. Zach Britton retired the side in order in the ninth to pick up the save and send the Orioles off to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

In Game 3, Cruz once again made his presence felt, hitting a two-run homer off David Price to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and send a subdued Detroit crowd into dead silence. In his postseason career, Cruz now has a .353 average with 8 homers and 22 RBI against Detroit. The Tigers didn’t score until the bottom of the ninth, when Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez started the inning with back-to-back doubles. Castellanos was intentionally walked, and then pinch-hitter Hernan Perez hit into a double play to end the game and the series, sending the Orioles into the ALCS for the first time since 1997.

The Orioles will be facing a Royals team that they went 3-4 against during the season. The Royals walked off with a 9-8 win over Oakland in 12 innings on Sept. 30, and then defeated the Angels twice in 11 innings in Anaheim on the way to a three-game sweep. Game 1 of the ALCS will be at 8:07 p.m. on Oct. 10, followed by Game 2 at 4:07 p.m. the next day. The series will shift to Kansas City for Games 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14. Game 5, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Games 6 and 7 will be at 8 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18 in Baltimore.

Orioles bring September, October magic back to Baltimore

By Andrew R. Koch

The Baltimore Orioles have been on a run for the ages since the end of May, as what was once a weak spot is now one of their strengths.

photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License
photo credit Keith Allison under a Creative Commons License

On May 30, the Orioles were 26- 27. They were struggling with consistency both at the plate and from their starting pitching. The starters were struggling to get past the fifth inning on a regular basis, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen. Since then, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been leading the way.

Left-hander WeiYin Chen has only lost twice in his last 24 starts, and ace right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t lost a start since July 12. That, along with a 3.46 team earned-run average that’s good for third-low- est in the American League, have contributed to Baltimore’s 70-39 record since the end of May. The final homestand of the season was highlighted by Baltimore clinching its first division title since 1997, and the first at home since 1969, with a final division lead of 12.5 games over New York and 13 games over Toronto. Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated the division title by smashing “Victory Pies” in fans’ faces, and dousing the head groundskeeper in beer on the field. The Orioles also once again lead the league in long balls, with 210 home runs this season. The Colorado Rockies are second with 185, followed by A.L. East rival Toronto with 177. Baltimore scores nearly half of its runs on homers.

Baltimore’s bench players are getting some of the limelight due to injuries to key starters. Jimmy Paredes, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk, has been playing third base with Manny Machado out due to season-ending knee surgery. Paredes is quickly winning his way into the hearts of fans with some power, to the tune of four doubles, two homers and driving in eight runs in 11 games since being called up. With Chris Davis sitting out the rest of the regular season because of a drug suspension, Steve Pearce has gotten regular playing time at first base, and has responded with a career high .293 batting average and 21 home runs. Ryan Flaherty has seen regular playing time at second base and shortstop due to the struggles of rookie Jonathan Schoop at the plate and back spasms for J.J. Hardy. Flaherty has also shifted over to third as manager Buck Showalter works his defensive substitutions and lineup of relievers in the bullpen.

The Orioles finished off the regular season by going 3-4 on the road in the Bronx and in Toronto. The A.L. Division Series will start on Oct. 2.

Photo Credit

Orioles Clinch First A.L. East Title in 17 Years

The Baltimore Orioles won the American League East title back in 1997. That was followed by 14 straight losing seasons that often saw the time out of contention by the All-Star break or the July 31 trade deadline, and frustrated longtime fans. The team managed to break that streak by winning a wild card game, and then taking the New York Yankees to five games in the 2012 American League Division Series, only to miss the playoffs last year despite another winning record. Now, the pennant drought and all those losing seasons have faded into distant memories.

The Orioles became the second team to clinch a playoff berth by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 to clinch the A.L. East title on Sept. 16 in the middle of a three-game series with Toronto at Camden Yards. After Toronto scored a run in the top of the first inning, Steve Pearce answered by hitting a three-run home run to put the Orioles on top for good. With the Orioles on top 4-2 in the seventh, new outfielder Alejandro De Aza hit a triple with the bases loaded to break the game open. Shortstop J.J. Hardy singled with one out in the eighth, and then scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Nick Hundley for the final run. The celebration began after Pearce fielded a grounder and stepped on first for the final out. After the celebration on the field, the champagne and beer started flying in the clubhouse, and then some of the players came back out of the dugout to salute the fans and spray some champagne and beer on them. Jones shared hugs with the grounds crew and high fives with fans as he carried the division championship flag around the warning track. Right-hander Ubaldo Jiminez, who’s struggled all season after signing a four-year, $50 million contract at the start of spring training, got a spot start, and allowed two runs on two hits, walked four and struck out six in five innings to improve to 5-9. It was the first game he’d pitched in since August 31.

Baltimore started their final homestand of the regular season by winning three out of four against the Yankees. Utility infielder Kelly Johnson, who started the season with New York before being traded to Boston at the end of July and to Baltimore at the end of August, hit a double in the bottom of the ninth to give the Orioles a 3-2 win over New York in Derek Jeter’s final game in Baltimore in front of a national audience on ESPN. That whittled the Orioles’ magic number to clinch the division down to three to eliminate Toronto. In the Sept. 15 series opener against the Blue Jays, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen gave up a run in the first inning, but Baltimore responded with an RBI single by Adam Jones, and De Aza scored on a double play grounder by Nelson Cruz. Cruz drove in Jones with a single in the third. In the fourth, second baseman Ryan Flaherty hit a no-doubt two-run homer out onto Eutaw Street through an open gate in the flag court to put the Orioles on top 5-1 on the way to a 5-2 win. That set up the clinching game the following night.

The Orioles will play in the American League Division Series starting on October 2. Their opponent will be determined based on the outcomes of the wild card and other division races.