Orioles’ Showalter Heads to First A.L.C.S. After Sweeping Tigers

ORIOLES

ORIOLES

DETROIT — As the Baltimore Orioles hugged and jumped on the infield grass in celebration, Buck Showalter stood calmly in the dugout, his arms folded and a proud smile crossing his face as he watched the proceedings.

Three times before his teams had reached the playoffs, losing their opening series each time. Twice, he had the misfortune of guiding a club to the divisional round of the playoffs only to see a different manager take it to a World Series title the year after he left.

The Yankees, who lost a division series under Showalter in 1995, won the 1996 championship under Joe Torre. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost a division series under Showalter in 1999 and fired him after an 85-77 season in 2000, captured a title in 2001 with Bob Brenly.

All Showalter could do was accept that he had played some role in the teams’ development, even if he could not celebrate with them. Now, though, Showalter, in his fifth year with the Orioles and his 16th as a big-league manager, is finally going to a league championship series, having earned his first playoff series win with a 2-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles will play the Kansas City Royals.

Photo

Jonathan Schoop after Baltimore’s win over Detroit. CreditRick Osentoski/Reuters

“Really?” Showalter deadpanned. “I won one in Albany.”

A baseball lifer, Showalter began managing in the Yankees’ minor league system in 1985, and, yes, during his time with a Class AA team in Albany, Baseball America named him its minor league manager of the year, in 1989.

That distinction cannot compare with what happened Sunday, when Showalter led the Orioles to a win in Game 3 of an American League division series, completing a sweep and returning the team to the A.L. Championship Series for the first time since 1997.

Bud Norris pitched the game of his life, and Nelson Cruz hit a two-run homer to lead the way. But the victory was due in no small part to Showalter’s guidance.

With some of his stars out because of injuries and a suspension, Showalter conjured solid performances from a cast of lesser-known players and made brilliant tactical moves along the way, especially in the playoffs.

In Game 2, he waited for the right moment to use Delmon Young as a pinch-hitter, and Young’s bases-clearing double proved decisive. On Sunday, he called on Norris, originally scheduled to start Game 4, and Norris produced a gem, holding the Tigers to two hits through six and a third scoreless innings.

Still, the game came down to one bold move by Showalter in the ninth inning that went against all baseball convention: He put the potential winning run on base with an intentional walk.

Then again, this is the same manager who once intentionally walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and lived to tell about it.

“Buck has been doing this a long time,” Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus said of the decision. “I don’t think he could do anything that would shock me.”

With the Orioles leading, 2-0, entering the ninth, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez doubled off Zach Britton, and J. D. Martinez followed with another double to make the score 2-1.

Britton then struck out Bryan Holaday, bringing up Nick Castellanos with one out.

Showalter went to the mound and made the call: Britton would walk Castellanos to set up a potential double play and take his chances against whatever the Tigers had on their bench (which was not much).

Showalter acknowledged he had some hesitation.

“Sure, I did,” he said. “What do you define hesitation as? Nobody’s that smart. Just needed a little karma to change the way that inning was going.”

Ausmus sent up Hernan Perez, who had had 74 career big-league at-bats (including the playoffs), in place of shortstop Andrew Romine, and Perez hit a bouncing ball to third base. Ryan Flaherty scooped the ball up and tossed it to second base, from which Jonathan Schoop, as cool as could be, fired it to Steve Pearce for a series-ending double play.

Flaherty, Schoop and Pearce: These are the players whom Showalter has relied on to win his first playoff series, not Manny Machado, the Orioles’ gifted third baseman, or catcher Matt Wieters, who were lost to injuries. In addition, Chris Davis, Baltimore’s slugging first baseman, was suspended for 25 games for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.

Yet the Orioles have swept their way into the A.L.C.S. by winning games in which they faced the last three A.L. Cy Young Award winners: Max Scherzer in Game 1, Justin Verlander in Game 2 and David Price in Game 3.

“We beat these guys during the season,” said Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, who also said he was considering retiring. “But in the postseason, they were a totally different team. They were angry. They came to fight.”

Perhaps that comment is the best praise Showalter could receive. His team is a hungry team, in search of more than just one series win, even if Showalter had waited a long time for it.

“It’s not going to drive my life,” Showalter said. “That’s not the way I’m going to be defined. The bottom line is what kind of father you are, your children. I haven’t been waiting around.”

Of course he hasn’t. After all, he won one in Albany.

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