Of all the possible outcomes in the Orioles-Tigers series, none seemed less likely than an O's sweep. Baltimore faced unfavorable match-ups at every turn, as would most teams pitted against three consecutive former Cy Young winners. But reality often defies expectations, so why would this series be any different? Three eventful games later, the surprising O's are headed for the ALCS.
There were four big moments in Game Three.
1) With two outs and a runner on third base in the second inning, Detroit shortstop Andrew Romine pushed a bunt toward the right side of the infield. Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Schoop charged, scooped, and underhanded the ball from his glove to first baseman Steve Pearce. It was a bang-bang play, one of those coin-flip calls that could go either way. In this instance, the ruling went against the Tigers, costing them a run. Brad Ausmus challenged but, without conclusive evidence, was denied.
2) Schoop would prove to be an important actor in the subsequent inning as well. First Schoop landed on a retreating Don Kelly, thereby obstructing his path to the base. Schoop didn't catch the ball cleanly, meaning the only thing standing—or, rather, laying—between Kelly and second was, well, Schoop. To his credit, Schoop grabbed the ball and applied the tag before Kelly could touch the bag. Later Schoop was unable to corral a wild throw from J.J. Hardy.
Those would seem to be unconnected events, save for the timing, but together they represent another what-if scenario for the Tigers and their fans. Had Kelly been safe and the rest of the inning played out the same way—and let's break from this hypothetical to say things almost certainly would have not played out the same way—the error likely plates Kelly from second base. Instead the actual lead runner, Torii Hunter, was stopped at third base, where he was then stranded.
3) The game remained scoreless until the fifth inning. David Price, whose command wasn't as sharp as usual, intended to throw a fastball down and away from Nelson Cruz. He missed his spot, elevating the heater to thigh-high level and off the plate; seemingly a safe spot, one that would result in a foul or other weak contact if swung at. Except Cruz put enough force on the ball to drive it over the right-field wall for a two-run home run.
4) Based on how the series played out in the first two games, you just knew Buck Showalter would make a bold move that paid off. In Game One, it was his Andrew Miller usage; in Game Two it was inserting Kevin Gausman and Delmon Young at opportune times. Showalter again used Miller aggressively in Game Three, but his ninth-inning gambit easily eclipsed the other moves.
Let's set the stage: the tying run was on second base and there was one out in the inning. Nick Castellanos was due, but Showalter instructed closer Zach Britton to issue an intentional walk and force a duel with Romine—even if it meant putting the winning run on board. Ausmus countered by lifting Romine for Hernan Perez. Two pitches later, Perez hit into a series-ending double play, leaving Showalter to admire his celebrating team. Was this the right call?
From a conventional perspective, what Showalter did is frowned upon. Few managers would put the winning run on base under any circumstance let alone this circumstance. When you think about it, though, Showalter's play made sense. After all, seasonal platoon splits be damned, who wouldn't rather face Romine (or Perez) instead of Castellanos? And, for that matter, what were the odds that either of those hitters would be able to lift Britton's power sinker? Yes, it could have happened—plenty of unexpected things happen in this game, on this planet—but there was logic there. If Perez had found an alley, then Showalter would have worn a dunce cap for a few days. But Perez didn't, so Showalter got to sport a pair of champagne goggles instead.
The O's will now take on the Royals in the ALCS—now there's a sentence for your 2011 self to process—while the Tigers retire for the winter.
Look on the bright side, Detroit: at least Joe Nathan pitched well.
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