BALTIMORE -- "Welcome to October" read the rally towels the Orioles handed out to fans on Thursday night. And what a warm welcome it was.The formidable sea of fans decked out in orange -- with the prized giveaway whipping around their heads throughout Camden Yards -- watched a Baltimore team
BALTIMORE -- "Welcome to October" read the rally towels the Orioles handed out to fans on Thursday night. And what a warm welcome it was.
The formidable sea of fans decked out in orange -- with the prized giveaway whipping around their heads throughout Camden Yards -- watched a Baltimore team that cruised to its American League East crown make a resounding statement with a 12-3 win over the Tigers in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
The resilient O's, who watched injured superstars Manny Machado and Matt Wieters share first-pitch honors, used a pair of homers from Nelson Cruz and J.J. Hardy and an incredible eight-run eighth inning to separate themselves and set a new postseason team record in runs scored along the way.
"That was pretty special, fun to watch," manager Buck Showalter said of his club's dominant win in front of a boisterous sellout crowd of 47,842. "I wish I had a towel."
Yes, the 10th man helped the O's, who had eight of their starting nine cross the plate, put the odds immediately in their favor in the best-of-five set. The Game 1 winner is 57-23 all-time in Division Series play.
"We rise to the occasion," center fielder Adam Jones said of an Orioles club that bested reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the first of three Cy Young winners Detroit will trot out. "In the face of some good pitchers, we go after them and zone in a little bit more. There's no answer to what we do, we just somehow, someway get the job done."
Baltimore, which got a gutsy five innings from starter Chris Tillman, watched four fantastic innings from the bullpen rewarded with a late-game offensive barrage. The O's got some much-needed breathing room off Scherzer with Hardy's shot to start the bottom of the seventh inning and finally chased Scherzer from the game after Alejandro De Aza's one-out double in the eighth.
Things snowballed from there, with De Aza scoring on shortstop Austin Romine's error, and Cruz driving in his third run of the game with a single off reliever Joba Chamberlain. After Steve Pearce's hit, Joakim Soria intentionally walked Hardy and Ryan Flaherty made him pay with an RBI single. No. 9 batter Jonathan Schoop roped a two-run double to push the lead to seven and brought on Phil Coke, the fourth reliever of the frame. Coke walked Nick Markakis before De Aza struck again, doubling in a pair of runs in his second at-bat of the inning.
"After Scherzer got out, you know, we pretty much tried to know what was coming," Cruz said of a Tigers bullpen that has been an Achilles' heel in Detroit's past few postseason trips. "We brought our bats and clutch hits."
The offense got an early jolt from Markakis, who suffered a season-ending hit-by-pitch to miss the 2012 postseason. Markakis, the longest tenured active Oriole, wasted no time making a statement in his first playoff game. After a leadoff single in the first, he scored on Cruz's two-run homer. Markakis then broke a 2-2 tie in the second with a two-out RBI blooper.
"I think the nice part for Nick is just being here," Jones said. "He battled and battled through his career. Obviously in 2012 he was hurt, but he's here now and he's able to contribute. I think that first at-bat, he probably won't admit it, but he probably had a little bit of jitters. He's one of our team leaders here and I'm just happy he's in this position."
Tillman opened the game in an enviable position, striking out the side in a 14-pitch first inning that culminated with a 96-mph fastball to Miguel Cabrera. The right-hander, making his first career postseason start, hadn't been clocked that high all season and walked off the mound to stadium-shaking cheer.
"I blacked out there. I don't know," Tillman said, laughing at the recollection of his first three outs. "[Catcher] Nick [Hundley] just said, 'That was awesome.' I was like 'What are you talking about?' It was cool. It was a lot of fun."
Tillman surrendered back-to-back homers in the top of the second to negate Cruz's two-run lead, but he settled down after that to retire 11 straight and got out of a key bases-loaded spot in the fifth with Torii Hunter's ground out on his 105th pitch.
"Believe me, I would like to see Tilly pitch seven innings," Showalter said. "He had the stuff to do it with, but they wouldn't let him do it."
Tillman had to work for every out, particularly in the case of Kinsler, who worked the righty for 30 pitches during three at-bats. Still, Tillman kept everyone not named Martinez in check, with both Victor and J.D. clubbing solo shots to even the score.
"They spoiled pitches all night long," Tillman said, "and I think execution was huge."
Lefty Andrew Miller followed Tillman and highlighted a stout relief corps as the O's bullpen, a dominant group the entire season, was able to stave off a lethal Tigers lineup. Miller worked around a leadoff walk to Cabrera in the sixth, retiring the next five batters before exiting to a rousing ovation.
"We're going to be called on to get more outs," said Miller, used much earlier than normal in the playoff showdown. "It's win-at-all-costs, and however you get to the finish line, you just want to make it."
Fellow late-inning guy Darren O'Day, on for the eighth inning after recording the final out of the seventh, surrendered a leadoff single to Kinsler that was erased when Hunter lined into a double play. That became even more critical when Cabrera followed and homered to right-center field bringing the game within a run.
Closer Zach Britton came on after that, getting Victor Martinez to ground out, in what looked to be a rare four-save out for him. But the eighth-inning outburst caused Showalter to go with righty Tommy Hunter to finish off the Game 1 win.
Still, as sweet as Thursday's win was, the Orioles will have to refocus almost immediately, with Game 2's noon ET start time already creeping into their minds postgame.
"We got to figure out how to win two more games from these guys," Showalter said. "It's going to be tough."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli.