The Baltimore Orioles fantastic 2014 campaign catapulted them into the playoffs with the look of a team that could not be beat. Two sweeps later and the O’s are heading home, four wins short of their first AL Pennant since 1983. The loaded Tigers proved no match for The Birds, as Baltimore swept Detroit out of the ALDS by besting the past three AL Cy Young winners: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price. However, the script would get flipped in the ALCS, as they were swept tonight by the unlikeliest of teams, the Kansas City Royals. This is the same Royals team that trailed 7-3 in the 8th inning of a win or go home Wild Card game versus the Oakland A’s (and playoff goliath Jon Lester).
How’d this all happen? Let’s take a look back.
Baltimore rode a +112 run differential into the playoffs, with their first AL East title since 1997 freshly minted. Even though they had the home field advantage, Detroit was actually the favorite in Vegas to win the series. Conventional wisdom said their pitching in a best of five series was too much to overcome. Conventional wisdom also said that the Orioles swing for the fences approach was not built for the playoffs.
Conventional wisdom would prove to be very wrong.
A game 1 slugfest turned into a rout, as Scherzer managed to get into the 7th but not after giving up significant damage. The O’s swept this series in large part because they got to feast on the Tigers bullpen after wearing down Scherzer and then Verlander in game 2.
Game 1 was blown open by an 8 run 8th inning where Verlander gave up a 1 out double that ended his day. The game was handed to the aforementioned shaky bullpen, which endured an error and then a bunch of slugging from Baltimore’s powerful lineup.
The following day, with Verlander on the hill, Detroit held a 6-3 lead in the 8th, with the Tigers ace long gone after a labor intensive 5 inning, 101 pitch effort. The Orioles would get the Tigers bullpen in another jam, and Delmon Young would hop off the bench to deliver a bases loaded double that would bring home all three runners and send Camden Yards into an absolute frenzy. A comeback like this gave you that feeling that the Orioles were the hottest team in baseball and no other team stood a chance of knocking them off. It seemed like they couldn’t be beat.
David Price welcomed the O’s to Detroit, a trade deadline acquisition by the Tigers. Not to be outdone, Bud Norris would go toe to toe with Price in an epic pitching duel on a cold, grey Detroit afternoon. As fans from neighboring Ford Field showed up in the middle innings after a 1pm Lions game, Price and Norris cruised into the 6th inning. Then, an Adam Jones single would be followed by a Nelson Cruz homer that just snuck it’s way over the fence and around the right field foul pole. Cruz was the best free agent signing of the off season and now it looked like he had punched the Orioles ticket for the ALCS.
Buck Showalter would have his mettle tested in the 9th, as Zach Britton got himself into a high pressure jam as the Tigers cut the lead to 2-1. With a man on 2nd and 1 out, Showalter elected to intentionally walk the winning run to set up a double play.
Cajones. Huevos. “Testicular Fortitude”. Whichever euphemism you prefer, Showalter had ’em here. But to hear how it went down on the field is even more remarkable.
Per Dave Sheinin from The Washington Post:
“There were no questions asked — only orders given and statements made. “We’re going to walk this guy,” Buck Showalter said to the six Baltimore Orioles he had gathered on the Comerica Park pitcher’s mound in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series. “The next guy’s going to hit into a double play, and we’re gonna go home.”
Wow. You talk about scoffing at fate, baseball Gods and whomever else you’d rely on in times like these. And of course, two pitches later, Tigers pinch hitter Hernan Perez would ground into a 5-4-3 double play, the Orioles would advance to the ALCS and Buck would hug a few staff members and then watch his team celebrate with a wry smile on his face.
Rain would not dampen the mood at Camden Yards last Friday, as the Orioles fans got to see their boys take the field in an ALCS for the first time since Mike Mussina was dealing for The Birds. Their opposition would be the surprising Royals, who survived a 12 inning Wild Card play in game and then swept the top seeded Anaheim Angels. A matchup of Baltimore’s power hitting and surprising pitching versus Kansas City’s small ball tactics, aggressive base running and stellar bullpen seemed like it would be an epic matchup. KC manager Ned Yost had made some head scratching moves during the season, including in the Wild Card game, and seemed like he’d be hopelessly overmatched by Showalter.
The rain soaked game 1 and the following night’s game 2 were eerily similar, with high scoring affairs coming down to bullpen battles. As mentioned on our Facebook page after the 8-6 Royals win in game 1, it was an ominous sign that the Orioles lost a shootout to a team where they clearly had an advantage in the power hitting department. Darren O’Day, who had been so solid out of the pen during the regular season, followed up a shaky September with a disastrous ALCS. He would take the loss in games 1 and 2, as the Orioles would never hold a lead in front of the Charm City faithful.
The scene would shift to Kansas City, as the Royals seemed to bloop their way to two more wins, capped off by tonights clinching game where they would win 2-1 on the back of a two run inning where the ball never left the infield. Ned Yost would ride his bullpen, as the Royals starters would combine for ONE out recorded after the 5th inning. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland were dominating all season and in this series Yost would use them for multiple innings, as Holland saved all four games.
Once plays like Mike Moustakas’ over the railing catch in game 3 and Alex Gordon’s wall crashing grab in today’s game start happening, it began to feel like fate just wasn’t on Baltimore’s side. Many claimed the Orioles quit starting in game 3, but from my couch I didn’t see quitters. I just saw another team that was pushing all the right buttons and hitting it where the O’s weren’t, all while shortening the games to 6 inning contests with the assistance of an untouchable bullpen.
In retrospect, this was an amazing season for Baltimore. An AL East crown that they won by 12 games, an ALDS sweep over three Cy Young winners and an ALCS appearance, all while Matt Weiters missed the entire season, Manny Machado missed a majority of the season and Chris Davis came crashing to earth.
There will be plenty of time to figure out what the team will look like next year (what to do with Cruz and Nick Markakis?), but for now the O’s fans should take a deep breath, crack open a Natty Boh, put a little Old Bay on the rim and drink up to one helluva baseball season for their boys.