DETROIT (Reuters) - The Baltimore Orioles advanced to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with a 2-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Sunday that gave them a three-game sweep of their best-of-five Division Series.
Orioles starter Bud Norris and two relievers combined to hold the home team to four hits, and slugger Nelson Cruz provided the offensive support with a two-run homer in the sixth off Tigers’ left-hander David Price.
Detroit rallied in the bottom of the ninth, cutting Baltimore’s 2-0 lead in half with back-to-back doubles from lead-off hitter Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez off closer Zach Britton, but he escaped with a game-ending double play.
In the series, Baltimore overcame a trio of Cy Young winners in Detroit starters Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Price as the AL East champions advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 1997 in pursuit of their first World Series in 31 years.
“It means we won an opportunity,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter after registering the first playoff series triumph of his 16-season major league career. “They’ve got a lot to be proud of,” he said of his team. “But it’s just a step.”
Detroit’s first-year manager Brad Ausmus was stung by the defeat.
“You feel like you let the fans down. You feel like you let the organization down,” Ausmus told reporters. “It’s disappointing. Nothing you can do anything about now.”
Baltimore scored all their runs in the sixth, when Cruz added to his formidable totals of postseason slugging with a homer down the right field line.
Cruz picked the shortest way out of the park, lofting a high outside pitch from Price just over the fence and inside the foul pole 330 feet away that scored Adam Jones ahead of him.
Tigers manager Ausmus expressed no sour grapes.
“It was a well-placed home run, but Nelson Cruz is a pretty darn good hitter, with the ability to hit the home run anywhere in the ball park.”
Signed as a free agent before the 2014 season after a 50-game doping suspension last year, Cruz increased his career total to 16 home runs and 32 RBIs in 37 postseason games.
“Having David Price on the mound, anything you can get is huge and the way Norris was throwing the ball was amazing, so two runs was big,” said Cruz, the 2011 ALCS MVP for the Texas Rangers who led the majors this season with 40 home runs.
Norris, 15-8 this season, was brilliant over the first six and one-third innings limiting the Tigers to two hits while striking out six and walking two before giving way to lefty reliever Andrew Miller.
Miller set down five batters in a row before closer Britton was summoned for the ninth.
After the opening doubles, Britton struck out Bryan Holaday, playing in place of catcher Alex Avila, taken out after being struck in the mask by a foul tip in the sixth.
Nick Castellanos, the potential winning run, was given an intentional walk, as Showalter gambled on facing a lighter hitter behind Castellanos.
Detroit countered by pinch-hitting for shortstop Andrew Romine with 23-year-old Venezuelan Hernan Perez, who had only five at-bats during the season.
Perez grounded sharply to third baseman Ryan Flaherty who started an around-the-horn double play that ended the series.
Baltimore will play either the Los Angeles Angels or Kansas City Royals for a berth in the World Series.
Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry