Nelson Cruz, Buck Showalter and an unheralded bunch from Baltimore swept aside Detroit’s Cy Young winners.
Cruz sliced a two-run home run for his latest big postseason hit, and the Orioles held off the Tigers, 2-1, on Sunday to reach the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997.
Bud Norris outpitched David Price in Game 3 of the AL Division Series. The Tigers scored in the ninth and put the tying run on second with no outs, but Orioles closer Zach Britton escaped the jam and lifted Showalter into his first LCS in 16 seasons as a big league manager.
“This is fun to watch. Believe me, I’m happier than you can imagine,” Showalter said. “But most of it comes from getting to see the players get what they’ve put into it.”
Baltimore opens the ALCS on Friday at home against Kansas City or at Anaheim against the Angels.
“We’ve got a lot to go and we’re grinding,” outfielder Adam Jones said. “If we play as a team, we can do anything.”
Cruz’s homer was the 16th of his postseason career, including eight against the Tigers. He was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS for Texas in a six-game victory over Detroit.
Cruz spent much of this past offseason without a team after serving a 50-game suspension last year for violating baseball’s drug agreement.
“He knows things were self-inflicted,” Showalter said. “He really wanted to re-establish himself, and we thought that we could provide a real good opportunity for him, and the sky might be the limit.”
Norris pitched two-hit ball for 6 1/3 innings, and Andrew Miller got five straight outs to keep the shutout going.
Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez opened the ninth with back-to-back doubles off Britton. Bryan Holaday struck out after a failed bunt attempt, and Showalter made the unconventional decision to put the winning run on base by intentionally walking Nick Castellanos.
That meant the bottom of Detroit’s lineup would have to come through. The Tigers sent up Hernan Perez — who had five at-bats in the regular season — to pinch hit, and bounced a 96 mph fastball into a 5-4-3 double play. It was Britton’s second save of the series.
Cruz led the majors with 40 homers this season, and the Orioles topped baseball with 211. It was his two-run homer in the first inning of the opener that set the tone for this series, and he came through again in the sixth inning against Price. Cruz’s drive cleared the wall in right, about 2 feet to the left of the foul pole.
Not bad for a guy the Orioles signed in late February. Cruz turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer that would have kept him with Texas — but he ended up having to settle for an $8 million, one-year contract with Baltimore that included $750,000 in roster bonuses.
Cruz’s powerful bat enabled the Orioles to withstand season-ending injuries to Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, as well as Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension for an amphetamine violation.
Detroit won its fourth straight division title this year, but they couldn’t make it four ALCS visits in a row. The Tigers remain without a World Series title since 1984 — a drought one year shorter than Baltimore’s.
Detroit acquired Price at this year’s trade deadline, adding another impressive arm to an already-formidable rotation. Max Scherzer, Price and Justin Verlander are the AL’s last three Cy Young Award winners, and the Tigers started them all in this series. They couldn’t manage a single victory.
Verlander and Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera have combined for the last three MVP awards. No use against a Baltimore team that had already surprised most of baseball with a 96-win regular season and an AL East title.