DETROIT (AP) — A runaway title in a division of behemoths, then an unexpected sweep against a trio of Cy Young winners.
For Nelson Cruz, Buck Showalter and this unheralded bunch from Baltimore, the question now is: What’s next?
Cruz sliced a two-run homer for his latest big postseason hit, and the Orioles held off the Detroit Tigers 2-1 Sunday to reach the AL 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 inning and put the tying run on second with no outs, but Orioles closer Zach Britton escaped the jam to lift 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. The Royals won the season series 4-3.
“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.”
So often an afterthought in the rugged AL East, the Orioles won their first division title since 1997 this year, dispatching the second-place New York Yankees by 12 games — and last-place Boston by more than double that margin. That put Baltimore up against another of the game’s most star-laden rosters, and Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and the Tigers couldn’t manage a single win.
Cruz’s homer Sunday was his 16th in postseason play, 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 he 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 series’ tone, 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.
“If you tell me before the series we’re going to sweep, I don’t believe it,” Cruz said.
Detroit won its fourth straight AL Central this year. But after reaching at least the ALCS the last three seasons, Detroit couldn’t make it there this year. The Tigers remain without a World Series title since 1984 — a drought one year shorter than Baltimore’s.
“It’s disappointing. You feel like you let the fans down and you feel like you let the organization down,” said Brad Ausmus, who replaced Jim Leyland as Detroit’s manager after last season.
Detroit acquired Price at this year’s trade deadline, adding another impressive arm to an already-formidable rotation. Max Scherzer, Price and Verlander are the AL’s last three Cy Young Award winners, and the Tigers started them all in this series. Verlander and 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.
“We got beat. There’s all there is to say,” Scherzer said. “We got outplayed in the series in every facet.”
After dropping the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore — the second thanks to an eighth-inning collapse by the bullpen — the Tigers returned home to a fairly subdued crowd at Comerica Park.
In the third, Don Kelly was on second with one out when Torii Hunter hit a grounder to the left side. Kelly was caught between second and third and tried to slide headfirst back to second. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop initially dropped the throw from shortstop J.J. Hardy, then quickly picked up the ball and tagged Kelly.
An umpire supervisor said through Major League Baseball spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige that Schoop was still in the act of fielding the ball, so it was not obstruction.
“It was probably more incidentally than anything else, going after the ball,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know that anything could be done in that situation.”
Royals beat Angels 8-3 to sweep ALDS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Almost an hour had passed, and the postgame party had moved from the field to the Kansas City clubhouse, where victory champagne was once again flowing. Yet as sheets of rain fell at Kauffman Stadium, thousands of celebrating Royals fans refused to leave.
They had waited 29 years to soak in moments like these.
“This is a special time in the city right now and they’re enjoying this as much as we are,” winning pitcher James Shields said. “This is the best atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.”
Alex Gordon hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas each homered and the wild-card Royals finished off a three-game sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Angels with an emphatic 8-3 victory Sunday night in the AL Division Series.
The scrappy team with the unorthodox manager, popgun offense, dynamic defense and lights-out bullpen will open the AL Championship Series against the Orioles beginning Friday night in Baltimore. Kansas City went 4-3 against the O’s this year.
“I’ve never seen this group of kids so confident on the big stage,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s really fun to see their development and watch them come into the postseason and just really take their game to the next level.”
The power-hitting Angels, 98-64 in the regular season, became the second team in the divisional era that began in 1969 to have the best record in the majors and get swept out of the playoffs, STATS said. In no small coincidence, the Royals dealt the same humiliating fate to the New York Yankees in the 1980 ALCS.
Stalking around the mound amid an electric atmosphere, Shields lived up to his “Big Game James” billing. The Royals’ ace gave up homers to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but otherwise held in check a suddenly punchless Los Angeles lineup
Shields was helped, too, by diving grabs by center fielder Lorenzo Cain on back-to-back plays. All told, the highest-scoring team in baseball managed six runs in the entire series.
“Anything happens in the playoffs,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t go in with any badge saying you won the most games, and you’re certainly not going to get any points for that going into the playoffs.”
Kansas City showcased great glovework in every game, especially by its fleet outfielders. In this one, Cain’s catches in the fifth inning preserved a five-run lead.
The Royals coasted the rest of the way to their seventh straight postseason victory dating to Game 5 of the 1985 World Series, the last time they were in the playoffs. George Brett, the star of that team, watched from an upstairs suite and raised his arms when ace closer Greg Holland fanned Trout for the final out.
“We feel like we belong,” Cain said, “that we can play with anyone.”
The Royals are certainly proving it.
Kansas City played a 12-inning thriller against Oakland in the wild-card game, and a pair of 11-inning games in Los Angeles before returning home to a raucous, adoring crowd.
Trout staked his team to a first-inning lead, but Angels starter C.J. Wilson quickly got into trouble. The left-hander with the $16 million price tag this season gave up consecutive singles and a four-pitch walk in the bottom half to load the bases for Gordon, whose slicing two-out double gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead.
Sensing the game already slipping away, Scioscia immediately marched to the mound and turned the game over to his bullpen. It didn’t fare a whole lot better.
The Royals kept the pressure on, and even plodding designated hitter Billy Butler got in on the act, stealing second base to another roar. It was his fifth career steal and first in two years, but it typified the way the Royals have been winning this postseason.
Dazzling pitching, daring baserunning and some dogged determination.
“They were just up there trying to put the ball in play,” Wilson said. “Then they went into damage mode and started swinging for homers. They’re hot right now. That’s what happens.”
After swiping seven bases and playing small-ball against the A’s, the club that hit the fewest homers in the regular season pounded out four long balls against Los Angeles.
Moustakas hit the first of them in the 11th inning of the opener, Hosmer hit the second in the 11th inning the next night, and both of them went deep to finish off the sweep.
Hosmer’s two-run shot came in the third inning. Moustakas connected in the fourth.
By that point, the Angels — their high-priced offense having fizzled and pitching having failed them — were slumped over the railing of their dugout. They spent the final five innings bundled up against the October chill, periods of rain making their night miserable.
But hardly putting a damper on thousands of Royals fans.
“Everyone knows how long it’s been since we’ve been in the postseason, and you can tell because of all these people out here,” Hosmer said. “They’ve got our backs on every pitch, and we’re feeding off the energy. To do this in front of our home crowd, it couldn’t be any better than coming and celebrating with all these people out here.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.