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Nelson Cruz finishes tormenting Tigers, sends O's to ALCS with homer in 2-1 win

With their season on the line at Comerica Park, the Tigers turned to the left-hander they acquired in July to pitch in big games just like this one: David Price. But if Price was to fix what plagued Detroit up to this point in the American League Division Series -- shoddy bullpen work -- he would likely have to exceed his personal postseason high of seven innings.

Opposing him Sunday afternoon was Bud Norris, who didn't have any personal postseason anything. This was his first playoff game in six Major League seasons and it came against a team that hit him around three times in four games during Norris' two AL seasons.

The Highlights

The first half of this game unfolded like the first installment of most superhero movie franchises: slow to start, mostly just laying the groundwork for something far more exciting at the end.

Price and Norris dueled through five innings of two-hit ball, their defense bailing them out when they got into a bit of trouble. One such instance was the final play of the second inning. Andrew Romine bunted to Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and Schoop used only leather, barely nabbing Romine at first to prevent the runner on third from scoring.

You can call it a "Schoop scoop."

In the top of the fourth, Detroit center fielder Don Kelly provided Price with a similar run-saving service. Nick Hundley drove one to right-center, but Kelly -- getting a start in place of an injured Rajai Davis -- tracked it down to strand Nelson Cruz:

KellyCatch

Cruz didn't leave his chance of scoring at the mercy of Detroit's defense in the sixth. He sent an outside changeup down the right-field line, and it carried and carried and sliced and sliced until it ended up on the other side of the fence for a two-run homer and a 2-0 O's lead:

CruzHR

The Tigers led off the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back doubles from Victor and J.D. Martinez, striking a fear into the souls of Baltimore fans that their Washington brethren could probably relate to.

Then Zach Britton settled down. He struck out Bryan Holaday, then induced a double play off the bat of pinch-hitter Hernan Perez. Game over: 

 

The Game Changer

O's manager Buck Showalter waited until Saturday to tell Norris he would start Sunday, and the right-hander didn't miss a beat in his postseason debut. He held Detroit to two hits and two walks over 6 1/3 shutout innings.

That was plenty to get the ball to late-inning relievers Andrew Miller (1 2/3 innings) and Britton (one inning): 

Other Key Players, Plays

The Schoop scoop wasn't his only notable defensive play. In the third, Torii Hunter sent a grounder to shortstop, and J.J. Hardy threw behind Kelly, who was trying to retreat back to second.

Schoop didn't catch Hardy's throw, but he in effect tackled Kelly -- preventing him from reaching second -- picked up the ball and tagged the runner: 

 

Minutes before Cruz's homer, Detroit catcher Alex Avila exited the game after taking a Steve Pearce foul tip off his mask. Avila, who has suffered from multiple concussions, appeared wobbly: 

AvileFoulTip

 

Price was as good as the Tigers could have hoped. His eight-inning, two-run effort was the best of his 10 postseason appearances: 

In the eighth, Price extracted a bit of unsatisfying revenge against Cruz, the proud owner of eight homers and 18 RBIs in nine playoff games against the Tigers, picking him off at first: 

CruzPickedOff

What's Next?

Up next for the Tigers is … a long winter, and eventually Spring Training.

The Orioles, meanwhile, await the winner of the Royals-Angels ALDS to see who they will play in the American League Championship Series, which begins Friday. One looming decision is whether or not Baltimore wants to put Chris Davis on its ALCS roster. He has five games remaining on his 25-game suspension, so if the O's decide to carry him, they will have to play with 24 players until a possible Game 6.

BAL