Tillman had retired 11 in a row after allowing back-to-back home runs to Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez in the second inning before Andrew Romine and Rajai Davis, the bottom of the Detroit lineup, singled with two outs in the fifth. Ian Kinsler then worked a nine-pitch walk (after battling for 14 pitches in his previous at-bat), bringing up the crucial showdown with Torii Hunter. Tommy Hunter had started warming up in the Baltimore bullpen during the Kinsler plate appearance, but Buck Showalter stuck with his starter, who was at 99 pitches.
This had the feeling of a game-turning or game-deciding battle. Tillman was going through the lineup for a third time and the numbers show that, on average, starters don't fare as well the third time through the order. Tillman was still cranking his fastball up to 95 mph, however. On the other hand, he throws a lot of high fastballs and Hunter is a pretty good high fastball hitter, hitting .273/.346/.470 on fastballs up in the zone, ranking him 49th out of 147 qualified regulars against that type of pitch.
Hunter fouled off a fastball, took a cutter for a ball and then fouled off a changeup that was well off the plate. Hunter will chase pitches out of the strike zone, but with the bases loaded it's a little more difficult to throw pitches out of the zone. Tillman went after Hunter with two high fastballs, which Hunter fouled off, and then Tillman finally induced a 5-4 force play with a good curveball at the knees.
2. Buck Showalter goes early to Andrew Miller.
I truly adore how Buck Showalter manages. He hasn't used Andrew Miller in the sixth once all year but brings him in for heart of order.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 2, 2014
One thing bloggers and writers like myself constantly pound managers for in the postseason is not going to their best relievers earlier in the game or in the game's most critical situations -- see Ned Yost in the sixth of the AL wild-card game, when he refused to bring in a guy he prefers to save for the seventh or eighth innings, Kelvin Herrera, and instead brought in a starter who had thrown 73 pitches two days before. At least Yost was willing to think outside the box.
Showalter's decision was made a little easier by the fact that Tillman had thrown 105 pitches in his five innings, but instead of bringing in Tommy Hunter -- his fourth-best reliever, at best -- he brought in the left-handed Miller, even though two of the next three batters were Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, two right-handers. Miller, acquired from the Red Sox at the trade deadline, had been primarily a LOOGY the past two seasons with Boston, but elevated his game to a dominant level this season, with 103 strikeouts in 62.1 innings and a .145 average against right-handed batters.
He walked Cabrera but struck out both Martinezes and got Alex Avila on a popup and ended up getting five outs. Showalter brought in closer Zach Britton with two outs in the eighth, when it was still a one-run game. Kudos to Showalter for his willingness to extend his best relievers a few extra outs.
3. Torii Hunter lines into a double play in the eighth.
First the bunt and then the line out DP. Not Torii Hunter's night. Cabrera's HR should have been the tying hit...
— Jared Purcell (@JaredPurcellDET) October 3, 2014
The Tigers are one of the slowest teams in the majors, although they did rank fourth in the AL in stolen bases thanks to Rajai Davis' 36 steals. Kinsler is one of the other guys who can run, and after reaching on an infield single to start the eighth with the Tigers down 4-2, he was running on the 2-2 pitch to Hunter, who hit a line drive to shortstop J.J. Hardy for an easy double play.
It was a good call by manager Brad Ausmus to send Kinsler, just bad luck. Hunter grounded into 18 double plays and had a double play percentage of 17 percent (double plays grounded into given possible opportunities), well above the major league average of 11 percent. O'Day gets a lot of ground balls with that sidearm sinker. It just stung even more when Cabrera followed with a home run.
4. Nelson Cruz strikes early.
Tigers fans remember Cruz all too well from the 2011 American League Championship Series, when he popped six home runs and drove in 13 runs as the Rangers knocked out the Tigers in six games. One of those came off Max Scherzer, a game-tying home run in the seventh inning of a Game 2 the Rangers would eventually win in 11 innings. That home run came on a 1-2 fastball, lined out to left field.
Now, Scherzer faced Cruz in the bottom of the first with two outs, after he had just gotten Adam Jones on a 6-4-3 double play after the first batters had reached. Jones had swung at the first pitch and maybe Scherzer figured Cruz would take a pitch. He didn't, unleashing that quick, powerful stroke on a 94 mph fastball over the plate and drilling it out to right field for a quick 2-0 lead.
In 35 career postseason games, Cruz now has 15 home runs, tied with Babe Ruth for 10th on the all-time list (yes, Ruth didn't have multiple rounds to accumulate his home runs, although he had 167 plate appearances while Cruz hit his 15th in his 138th career PA).
Most HR in 1st 35 Career Playoff Games Nelson Cruz 15 Carlos Beltran 15 Mickey Mantle 11 Jayson Werth 11 http://t.co/2vRwJOQLun
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) October 2, 2014
Anyway, Cruz got off to that monster start in the regular season, with 20 home runs through May. He then hit .214 with 15 home runs from June through August before heating up again in September, with a .349 average and five home runs. Cruz's power hasn't been a product of Camden Yards -- he hit 15 home runs at home and 25 on the road -- and if he keeps his hot bat going the Tigers may end up with a sense of déjà vu.
5. Orioles add insurance as Detroit's flaws exposed.
By that, I mean defense and relief pitching. First, with a runner on, Ausmus pulled Scherzer after 98 pitches and a runner on in the eighth.
And yes, it could be the parting look from Scherzer's final outing as a Tiger, depending on how series unfolds.
— Jason Beck (@beckjason) October 3, 2014
Then shortstop Andrew Romine, in there because his glove is better than Eugenio Suarez's, made an error, with Alejandro De Aza scoring from second thanks to an aggressive send by third-base coach Bobby Dickerson (White Sox fans tweeted about De Aza often getting thrown out on the bases, but I have to think Dickerson waved him home here).
Balls in play are bad news for Detroit.
— Ben Lindbergh (@BenLindbergh) October 3, 2014
Then some more hits off Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria and suddenly it was a blowout and the confidence in Detroit's bullpen for the rest of the series takes a hit. There may be some talk about the bullpen's performance in the eighth inning, but the Orioles still scored five runs off Scherzer. That's the bigger story of the night.