Baltimore Orioles: A Fitting End to the ALDS


Oct 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Baltimore Orioles players celebrate their win in the locker room after defeating the Detroit Tigers in game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game at Comerica Park. The Orioles move on to the ALCS with 2-1 win over the Tigers. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This 2014 American League Division Series ended exactly the way it should have. The way it was meant to.

The last three outs of the contest between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers featured a resilient bullpen, expert managing, and strong defense — traits embodied by the 2014 Orioles all year — as the Orioles completed the three-game sweep, marking the first time since 1997 the team has advanced to the Championship Series.

Much like the Orioles, it wasn’t without its flaws, but it was exciting, and it gave the fans what they want. As manager Buck Showalter often says, it was delayed, but not denied.

Closer Zach Britton stared deep into a sea of suddenly awakened, white towel-waving Tiger fans that had finally sensed blood in the water from a pitching staff that had held them silent all game.

The first two Tigers hitters Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez just hit back-to-back doubles off of his usually ironclad 97 mph sinker to lead-off the ninth inning. The lead was cut in half, from 2-0 to a very tense 2-1 with a man in scoring position and no outs. Momentum was changing. It was the moment of doubt.

Then, the Orioles closer showed his meddle.

Britton stuck out catcher Bryan Holaday on a low-and-inside sinker gaining the inning’s first out.

After that, Buck Showalter made perhaps the best of his many great managerial moves this series. Showalter walked the last dangerous Tigers hitter, Nick Castellanos, unconventionally putting the winning run on first base with one out in the ninth inning.

But as so many things have this season, it played out exactly as Showalter thought it might.

Zach Britton, who induces ground balls at a 75 percent clip, got the double-play ball Showalter desired. Pinch hitter Hernan Perez, a man who saw six major league plate appearances all year, rolled the ball to third base, setting up the play that would send Baltimore into ecstasy.

The 5-4-3 double play that ended the game appropriately began with Ryan Flaherty, who has sured-up a defensive weakness at third base the O’s had felt since Manny Machado’s injury in mid-August.

Then the turn was made by Jonathan Schoop, who made one of the game’s biggest plays in the bottom of the third inning. Schoop tagged out Detroit’s Don Kelly at second on a controversial fielder’s choice where he held Kelly off the bag while retrieving a dropped J.J. Hardy feed before applying the tag.

The throw went to now-everyday first baseman Steve Pearce, whose defense at a position he rarely played on the Orioles until this year has been both surprising and outstanding.

Showalter’s move wasn’t about knowing the game. It was about knowing the guys on his team and his opponents’ and putting his guys in a position to succeed. About sensing the moment, about reading body language, and capitalizing on an opportunity.

Showalter refuses to be out-managed, and the Orioles refuse to be outplayed. The Orioles have responded to adversity several times already this postseason, and they don’t give the impression that any challenge is too great.