Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

Chen, Guthrie scheduled to start Game 3 of ALCS

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Chen, Guthrie scheduled to start Game 3 of ALCS

Posted on 11 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Trying to bounce back from their disappointing extra-inning loss in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the Orioles named tentative starters for Games 3 and 4 of the series to be played in Kansas City.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters that lefty Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to make the first start of the series at Kaufman Stadium where he’ll be opposed by former Orioles starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Chen was roughed up in his only start of the postseason when he allowed five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in his Game 2 start against the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series, a game the Orioles eventually won.

The Taiwanese lefty is 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in six career starts covering 36 2/3 innings against Kansas City.

Guthrie will be making his postseason debut on Monday and hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26 when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox. The 35-year-old went 13-111 with a 4.13 ERA in 32 starats this season and is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in four career starts spanning 27 innings against Baltimore.

In Game 4, Miguel Gonzalez is currently slated to take the ball for the Orioles against Kansas City lefty Jason Vargas as Royals lefty Danny Duffy will continue to work out of the bullpen after concerns with his mechanics during the month of September. Showalter confirmed Chen and Gonzalez would both be available in the bullpen for Game 2 as Bud Norris was making his second start of the playoffs.

Gonzalez threw a simulated game earlier this week, but the right-hander hasn’t pitched in a game since the regular-season finale on Sept. 28.

The Orioles entered Game 2 having not lost consecutive home games since June 28-29. They were 31-10 in their final 41 regular-season games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards this year. Of course, they fell to 2-1 in postseason home games after the 8-6 loss to the Royals on Friday night.

Here are the Game 2 lineups:

KANSAS CITY
SS Alcides Escobar
RF Nori Aoki
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Mike Moustakas

SP Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA)

BALTIMORE
RF Nick Markakis
LF Alejandro De Aza
CF Adam Jones
DH Nelson Cruz
1B Steve Pearce
SS J.J. Hardy
3B Ryan Flaherty
C Caleb Joseph
2B Jonathan Schoop

SP Bud Norris (15-8, 3.65 ERA)

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Late innings suddenly not so comfortable for Orioles

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Late innings suddenly not so comfortable for Orioles

Posted on 11 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Amidst changing faces and three different closers over the last three seasons, Darren O’Day has remained the backbone of the Orioles bullpen.

We saw it firsthand against the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series as he inherited a disastrous situation created by closer Zach Britton in the ninth inning and induced a 6-4-3 double play from designated hitter Billy Butler to escape a bases-loaded jam and keep the Orioles tied 5-5.

But the right-hander’s fortunes changed in the top of the 10th as Alex Gordon led off with a tie-breaking homer to help send Kansas City to an 8-6 win on Friday night. In isolation, the Orioles could chalk it up as a rare mistake for the submarine pitcher who posted a 1.70 ERA in the regular season, but Gordon’s blast continued a disturbing trend that began right around Labor Day.

After allowing only three home runs in the first five months of the season, O’Day has now surrendered five long balls since Sept. 2, with four of them against left-handed hitters. Batters from that side of the plate hit only .189 against him in the regular season, but O’Day’s recent difficulty against left-handed bats suddenly makes the Orioles’ back-end trio of Britton, O’Day, and Andrew Miller appear mortal. And it spells trouble against a lineup featuring Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.

“Highs and lows of playoff baseball,” O’Day said. “I came in the inning before and got out of a situation you don’t expect to get out of and, as easy as that, just like I’m throwing batting practice, I gave up a home run. I take great pride in being able to get left-handers [out]. Lately, I haven’t been. Forget getting them out. You have to keep guys in the yard, left- or right-handed.”

Of course, O’Day wasn’t the only factor in explaining why the Orioles lost their first game of the postseason Friday as starter Chris Tillman struggled, the offense squandered some golden opportunities, and the defense missed a chance to limit the damage in a four-run fourth. But in a series in which the Orioles face a bullpen as imposing as their own, O’Day’s vulnerability against left-handed hitters could make for a trying series.

Since the acquisition of Miller, Baltimore has flourished while often creating a six-inning game for opponents with O’Day and the former Boston Red Sox lefty handling the seventh and the eighth before Britton would slam the door in the ninth. But it doesn’t take much for a bullpen to suddenly find itself in disarray.

As anyone in baseball will tell you, there’s nothing more volatile than relief pitching.

Just ask former Oriole Jim Johnson, who went from record-setting closer to unemployed in less than two years. He’s still trying to fully pick up the pieces from his failures in the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees two years ago.

“They’re good hitters and they’re good pitchers, and sometimes it doesn’t work out,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Those guys that all pitched tonight are the reason we’re sitting here playing a seven-game series for the American League championship. It will continue tomorrow.”

Showalter will continue to go with O’Day and Britton just as he should. As spectacular as Miller has been in the postseason — tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings — he can’t pitch multiple innings every night in a best-of-seven series.

Britton expressed confidence after the Game 1 loss that his wildness was an aberration, but Friday’s outing in which he threw only five strikes out of 20 total pitches did follow a shaky ninth-inning performance in Game 3 of the ALDS in which he allowed back-to-back doubles and needed a 5-4-3 double play to close out the series. You have to trust – and hope – his inability to throw strikes against the Royals in Game 1 was more a product of having not pitched in four days and not evidence of developing the yips on the second-biggest stage you’ll find in the majors.

The left-handed closer held up just fine pitching in the first two games of the ALDS, which earns him some benefit of the doubt.

But O’Day’s vulnerability against left-handed pitching has now lasted the better part of six weeks. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this from the veteran as lefty hitters batted .309 with five home runs against him in 2013, but it does complicate the bullpen’s pecking order if he can’t be trusted in certain situations.

Lefty specialist Brian Matusz certainly didn’t inspire confidence later in the 10th by allowing a two-run homer to the lefty-hitting Moustakas, which ended up being the difference in the game after the Orioles staged their 10th-inning rally.

It could mean a few more high-leverage opportunities for the 23-year-old Kevin Gausman, but Showalter wants to use the right-hander to bridge the gap to the late innings if a starter runs into trouble as we saw with Tillman on Friday and Wei-Yin Chen in Game 2 of the Division Series last week.

To be clear, the Orioles shouldn’t panic after their series-opening defeat as 13 of 28 Game 1 losers have recovered to win the ALCS since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985. Showalter will continue to ride the horses that got the Orioles to this point, and there’s a track record to suggest they’ll bounce back for the remainder of the series.

But with O’Day’s recent struggles against lefties and Britton’s alarming lack of control Friday night, the late innings suddenly aren’t as comfortable as they’ve been for most of the season.

And that will make you hold your breath even more when you’re just four victories away from advancing to the World Series — and now three losses from elimination.

“We will go get them [Saturday],” Britton said. “We have to win four, and it doesn’t matter what four you win so we’ll bounce back [Saturday]. We’ve done it before.”

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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

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Orioles must slow speedy Royals in quest for AL pennant

Posted on 09 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Buck Showalter almost sounded coy when asked about the speed of the Kansas City Royals as his club made final preparations for the American League Championship Series scheduled to get underway Friday night.

With five Royals players recording double-digit steals in the regular season and another rookie — Terrance Gore — stealing three bases in his first four postseason games, the Orioles face a tall order in slowing Kansas City’s speed demons, a factor many view as a potential tipping point between two clubs that are very similar beyond their contrasting offensive styles.

“They’re not automatically going to all of a sudden run slower tomorrow,” Showalter said. “If anything, they’re going to run faster. You don’t control that. It’s impossible. It’s one of those givens. Try to keep them off base as much as you can.”

Sure, there’s no better remedy for neutralizing speed than preventing runners from reaching first, but the Orioles don’t sound nearly as concerned about the Kansas City running game Thursday as the many outsiders trying to break down this matchup. As some ponder whether the season-ending elbow injury to Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters will finally catch up to Baltimore in this best-of-seven series, the Orioles spent Thursday pointing out that their regular style of play always involves containing an opponent’s running game.

Most of the attention falls on the shoulders of the catching tandem of Nick Hundley and Caleb Joseph, but the ability to stop potential thievery runs deeper.

Even with the two-time Gold Glove selection Wieters limited to just 22 games behind the plate this season before an elbow injury eventually led to Tommy John surgery, opponents still attempted the fourth-fewest number of steals in the AL against Baltimore this season. The Orioles ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners trying to steal with Joseph — a 28-year-old rookie not known for his defensive work in the minors — and the veteran Hundley handling the catching duties for much of the season.

And that’s when you begin to see where the real responsibility lies in controlling an opponent’s running game.

“The easiest way [to neutralize it] is quick times to the plate, no question,” said former Orioles outfielder and current vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, who swiped 315 bases in his 15-year career. “As a base stealer, you steal bases off the pitcher. It doesn’t matter to me if [13-time Gold Glove winner] Ivan Rodriguez was behind the plate; if the pitcher was slow, I’m going.”

Look no further than Game 1 starter Chris Tillman to see how much emphasis the Orioles have placed on pitchers being fast to the plate and holding runners since Showalter’s arrival during the 2010 season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was admittedly poor when it came to holding runners during his early years with the Orioles before Showalter and Wieters preached the need for him to shorten his delivery to prevent runners from going wild on the bases.

It was a mindset that several pitchers have needed to learn the hard way during Showalter’s tenure, with some even earning demotions to the minors as a result.

Tillman has not only posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons to emerge as the ace of the Baltimore rotation, but the 26-year-old has allowed only two stolen bases since the start of the 2013 season.

“When Buck got here, it was a big pet peeve of his,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to be quick and give your catchers a chance. Anytime the opposing guys get an extra 90 feet for free, you’re not doing yourself a favor. It’s an organizational thing now. Early on, I don’t think it was. I was young and immature and didn’t know any better, to tell you the truth.”

Of course, the Royals aren’t just any other club in stealing 153 bases to lead the majors in the regular season, and they appear to have only gotten better in that department with the addition of the speedy Gore to go along with Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Nori Aoki. They have gone a remarkable 12-for-13 attempting to steal in four postseason games.

But the Orioles feel confident in their scouting and preparation and their biggest weapon in helping to neutralize an opponent’s running game, which is none other than bench coach John Russell.

“A lot of it comes from the bench,” Hundley said. “John Russell does an unbelievable job knowing tendencies, knowing when to throw over, knowing when to pitch out. He doesn’t get enough credit. He controls all the pick-offs and all that stuff. How good he is at it helps us out — me and Caleb — a bunch. And it takes a lot of pressure off the pitchers, because they know he’ll put them in a very successful position.”

It remains to be seen how Showalter will distribute the catching duties over the course of the series, but Hundley is expected to start Game 1. The 31-year-old veteran acquired from the San Diego Padres in late May handled a larger portion of the playing time down the stretch despite throwing out only 19 percent of runners trying to steal this season. In contrast, Joseph gunned down 40 percent during his rookie season even though his defense was often viewed as a hindrance in his minor-league development for years.

Regardless of who might be behind the plate, the mindset isn’t expected to change for Orioles pitchers as they will do what they always do — even against the speedy Royals.

“All the pitchers feel comfortable with it, because it’s something we’ve always put the onus on,” Wieters said. “It shouldn’t be anything different in their minds as far as what they need to do. They stick with their same times to the plate, and it gives us a chance. As a catcher, that’s all you want. There are certain guys that you won’t throw out, but we feel like every pitcher out there is giving the catcher a chance to make a good throw and hopefully get an out.”

Ultimately, the Orioles know they can’t reinvent the wheel when trying to slow a club that ran wild against the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card Game and continued their aggressiveness against the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. They’ll simply stick with their regular habits of being quick to the plate and holding runners effectively while likely being savvy in attempting to interrupt runners’ timing with pick-off attempts or by simply holding the ball a little longer in some instances.

Showalter isn’t going to change who the Orioles are at this late stage, nor should he try to with a club that won 96 games this season with plenty of its own strengths. And he saw firsthand in September how a pitcher can fall apart on the hill if he’s dwelling on a fast runner and not focusing on the hitter at the plate.

“We’ve talked about it, but we’re not going to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Showalter said. “I think one time we had Quintin [Berry] pinch‑running for us late in the year, and without naming the [opposing] pitcher, you could tell his whole delivery changed trying to keep him from stealing second. He gave up three hits, back to back to back. We didn’t steal a base, but we didn’t have to.

“But we’ve got some things that they might have to adjust to, too.”

The biggest key will be maintaining their mental toughness by not allowing Kansas City’s preference for a track meet to take away from what they do best.

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Royals ALCS matchup

Posted on 08 October 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Kansas City Royals for the first time ever in the postseason and for the right to advance to their first World Series in 31 years, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night:

1. It isn’t Eddie Murray vs. George Brett, but the tradition of yesteryear in each city makes this series a blast.

Yes, it’s been three decades since either the Orioles or Royals found themselves playing in the Fall Classic, but that’s what makes this series so much fun as younger baseball fan will be exposed to the history of each franchise. From 1973 through 1985, Baltimore and Kansas City combined to win two World Series titles, four AL pennants, and 10 division championships and were regarded as two of the model franchises in the major leagues. This history may not mean much to the current players or have any impact on the play on the field, but the fans’ thirst for a World Series will be palpable at both Kauffman Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

2. You won’t find more contrasting offensive styles with the stakes so high.

It’s thunder against lightning as the Orioles led the major leagues with 211 home runs while the Royals stole more bases (153) than any of the 29 other clubs. Meanwhile, Baltimore stole the fewest number of bases (44) in the big leagues and Kansas City ranked 30th with only 95 home runs. Five Royals players hit double digits in swiped bags while the Orioles’ leader in the category was David Lough with eight. Seven Orioles hit 12 or more homers — Manny Machado and Chris Davis will not play in this series — compared to just three for Kansas City. Despite their contrasting styles, the Orioles finished the regular season ranked sixth in the AL in runs with 705 compared to Kansas City coming in ninth with 651. Baltimore has the better offense over the long haul, but the Royals will try to turn a short series into a 100-meter dash while the Orioles emphasize their advantage in the shot put.

3. The Royals stack up more favorably to the Baltimore defense that Detroit did.

The Orioles still have the edge in the field, but Kansas City has a number of Gold Glove-caliber players including catcher Salvador Perez and outfielders Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. The Orioles rank third in the AL in BaseballReference.com’s defensive efficiency statistic while the Royals came in sixth in the regular season. Baltimore made the third-fewest number of errors (87) in the AL this season while Kansas City ranked 10th with 104. Both clubs made sparkling plays in the Division Series and rely on their defense to make a difference in close games.

4. Scoring early will be a high priority for both clubs.

Unlike the luxury the Orioles had against Detroit in the Division Series, they cannot expect to wait out starting pitchers for scoring opportunities in the late inning against the Royals, whose trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera might be even better than their own triumvirate of Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Darren O’Day. The Orioles’ 3.10 bullpen ERA ranked third in the AL while Kansas City’s 3.30 mark ranked fifth, which will cause both lineups to feel the urgency to break through prior to the sixth inning. Even with so many other great names in each bullpen, the wild cards could be right-hander Kevin Gausman and Kansas City lefty Brandon Finnegan, who made a major impact in the Wild Card Game after only being drafted in the first round out of Texas Christian a few months ago.

5. The spotlight will be much brighter on Adam Jones to produce in this series.

It’s cruel to judge any player on a sample size of only 37 at-bats, but the Orioles center fielder has amassed only four hits in his postseason career and will feel the heat if his bat doesn’t wake up in the ALCS. Being an aggressive hitter throughout his career, Jones must fight the urge to over-swing, especially when he has opportunities to drive in runs. The 29-year-old singled and walked in his final two plate appearances of the ALDS, which the Orioles hope are signs of better things to come this October for a player who’s meant so much to the club’s success over the last three years. Nelson Cruz carried the Orioles in the ALDS, but Jones waking up would make them even more difficult to beat in a best-of-seven series.

6. The Orioles are better equipped to handle Kansas City’s jackrabbits on the base paths.

The Royals are an incredible 12-for-13 attempting to steal in the postseason, which has certainly provided Buck Showalter with some restless nights this week. However, the Orioles will have more success in slowing Kansas City runners than either Oakland or the Angels because of their focus on slowing an opposing club’s running game. Baltimore ranked sixth in the AL by throwing out 28 percent of runners attempting to steal, but the fact that they faced the fourth-fewest number of stolen base attempts is a reflection of how well pitchers hold runners and how quick they are to the plate to help catchers Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley. Of the two, Joseph is more adept at gunning down runners (a 40 percent success rate to Hundley’s 19 percent), so it will be interesting to see how much more Showalter might lean on the younger catcher in this series after Hundley started two of the three ALDS games.

7. Former Oriole starter Jeremy Guthrie pitching against his former club in the ALCS will be somewhat surreal.

With apologies to Baltimore reserve Jimmy Paredes, Guthrie is the most intriguing name to face his former team in this series and had the misfortune of being dealt away from the Orioles just before their resurgence in 2012. The classy right-hander has found a home with the Royals where he’s continued to be a solid member of the rotation and has been rewarded with a taste of the postseason after pitching respectably on some otherwise awful Orioles clubs from 2007 through 2011. Though Guthrie probably wouldn’t be slated to start before Game 4 unless the Royals elect to go with Danny Duffy in the rotation and put him in the bullpen, it will be interesting to see the Orioles face the 35-year-old, who acts as a symbol of the club’s past as they seek their first AL pennant in 31 years.

8. Neither club received enough credit for its starting pitching during the regular season.

The Orioles and Royals are known for their stout bullpens, but their rotations have been very effective despite lacking big names. The projected Game 1 starters, Chris Tillman and James Shields, are two of the better pitchers in the AL — the latter for a longer period of time — but each has just one All-Star appearance to his name. Baltimore’s starter ERA of 3.61 ranked just a hair below the Royals’ fourth-ranked 3.60 mark in the AL. The strong bullpens for both sides decrease the chances of any starter pitching particularly deep into games, but there’s no reason to think either side will have problems in this department.

9. This series may feature the two best relievers in baseball right now — and neither are closers.

While Britton and Holland have been two of the best ninth-inning men in baseball in 2014, Miller and Davis are the scariest weapons in their respective bullpens as they combined to strike out 212 hitters in 134 1/3 innings during the regular season. Miller’s ERA was 1.35 in 23 regular-season appearances for the Orioles after being dealt by Boston while Davis posted a 1.00 ERA in 71 appearances for Kansas City this year. Showalter has already demonstrated he’s not afraid to use Miller for more than one inning in the postseason while Davis was a starter as recently as last season, making you think he can be stretched out as well. Regardless of who ends up winning this series, it would be shocking if Miller and Davis aren’t the busiest bullpen arms in the best-of-seven showdown.

10. Buck Showalter has a sizable advantage over Ned Yost on this stage.

The strong sentiment shared among many around baseball is that the Royals have won in spite of their manager, who prefers the small-ball tactics detested by sabermetricians. Meanwhile, Showalter often speaks of his preference to not waste his offense’s 27 outs per game and rarely calls for sacrifice bunts and other tactics such as the hit and run. You do wonder if the Orioles’ strong bullpen will press Yost to lean even more on manufacturing runs than he normally does, but Showalter is more likely to stay the course with his lineup — even against the Royals’ stingy relievers. As for bullpen management, the skipper who is more willing to break the standard thinking of when to use his relievers will give his team the edge. Showalter is the superior tactician and has already shown his willingness to stretch his best relievers during the Division Series.

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

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Pondering changes to Orioles’ 25-man roster for ALCS

Posted on 07 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles advancing to the American League Championship Series to take on the Kansas City Royals, manager Buck Showalter will have the opportunity to reset his 25-man roster before Game 1 on Friday.

For weeks, many have pondered what the Orioles will do when suspended slugger Chris Davis is eligible to return, but the three-game sweep in the AL Division Series made it all but guaranteed he’ll remain on the sideline until a potential trip to the World Series. There had been some thought at the start of the postseason that the Orioles could play a man down to begin the ALCS, but the quick elimination of the Tigers left Davis with five games remaining on his 25-game suspension and he wouldn’t be eligible to play until a potential Game 6.

Davis has continued to work out at third base in Sarasota to stay sharp, but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles automatically welcome him back to the 25-man roster if they advance to the Fall Classic. Working out and playing in instructional league games in Florida are fine, but a layoff of more than a month will inevitably leave some rust and the Orioles might not want to mess with their karma should they find themselves playing for a world championship.

With the Royals regularly using four left-handed hitters in their lineup, Showalter may elect to turn to left-handed relievers Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland after they were left off the ALDS roster against Detroit, who feasted off southpaw pitching in the regular season. Kansas City hit .266 against left-handers and .261 against right-handed arms, but the presence of lefty hitters Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon — right fielder Nori Aoki hit .363 against left-handers this season — would make you think Showalter would prefer having the situational Matusz as an option to pitch to a left-handed hitter or two in certain spots.

Left-handers hit only .223 against Matusz in the regular season while righties hit .277 with an .876 on-base plus slugging percentage.

McFarland’s addition for the ALCS would appear to be less certain as lefties hit .266 against him compared to right-handers posting a .324 average. There wouldn’t appear to be room for both Ubaldo Jimenez and McFarland in the bullpen, so you wonder if Showalter will once again go with the veteran as his emergency long man to keep Kevin Gausman available to pitch in high-leverage situations.

The Orioles kept 11 pitchers for the best-of-five ALDS, but the next round having a best-of-seven format might entice Showalter to add an extra pitcher, leaving him with a shorter bench. Considering Ryan Flaherty played such strong defense at third base, the Orioles manager might not find it necessary to have both Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson on the bench for this series.

The switch-hitting Paredes did not appear in any of the three ALDS games while the lefty-hitting Johnson appeared once as a pinch hitter and replaced Flaherty at third base for the ninth inning of Game 2.

As for the starting rotation, Showalter is expected to send Chris Tillman to the hill for Game 1, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll slot Miguel Gonzalez into Game 2 after he didn’t pitch in the ALDS or the right-hander will once again fit behind Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris in the pecking order.

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Young’s simple approach nets huge dividends for Orioles in dramatic Game 2 win

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Young’s simple approach nets huge dividends for Orioles in dramatic Game 2 win

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Following one of the most dramatic moments in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Delmon Young appeared to be the only one who didn’t view his three-run double as anything special after the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon.

Asked how it felt to hear the roar of the crowd after he connected on a liner down the left-field line off Joakim Soria and what it meant to lift his club to a dramatic comeback victory to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series, Young was short and unemotional with his answers as if he didn’t understand why such a fuss was being made. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Young has delivered in October as it was just a few years ago that he hit eight home runs over two postseason runs with the same team he put on the brink of elimination Friday afternoon.

“Just like winning a ballgame,” said Young about how he felt as just a trace of a half-smile briefly came across his face. “I was trying to do my job and win a game. You don’t want to go to Detroit [tied] 1-1 when they have [David] Price going and [Rick] Porcello going and they have an opportunity to clinch up there.”

The coming days will determine where Young’s hit might ultimately rank in club history, but the 29-year-old’s bases-clearing double has at least given him folk-hero status in a 22-year history of Camden Yards that doesn’t include a long list of great on-field results.

It all started quietly enough with the Orioles signing Young to a minor-league deal following a tryout at their January minicamp in Sarasota. His career appeared at a crossroads after a mediocre season with Detroit in 2012 and a disappointing campaign split between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay a year ago.

But the Orioles only envisioned a platoon role for him against left-handed pitching, and manager Buck Showalter quipped after Friday’s game that no one was smart enough to anticipate Young’s 10-for-20 mark as a pinch-hitter in 2014, providing timely hits throughout a 96-win campaign even after stretches when he’d sit on the bench for days at a time.

“He’s always been a good hitter,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who scored the go-ahead run on Young’s double and played with him in Minnesota in 2010. “But pinch-hitting, we look at each other in the dugout after he gets a big hit and we’re like, ‘How does he do that after not seeing a live pitch for five or six days and then just come in and hit a pitch like that down the line?’ It’s unbelievable.”

Young shrugged when asked how he’s been able to come through off the bench in the late innings so often, calling it good fortune and stating that it’s a matter of simply being ready whenever Showalter calls his name. Now with his fifth different club in the last four years, the journeyman almost made it sound as simple as rolling out of bed to step to the plate before returning to a state of relaxation after getting the job done.

But teammates know better, applauding his preparation and ability to do something that even many of the most-skilled hitters in the game struggle with.

“It’s the hardest job in sports, being a pinch-hitter,” said first baseman Steve Pearce, who’s filled a similar role to Young’s in past seasons and is a career .190 pinch-hitter in 88 plate appearances. “You’re going up there cold; you haven’t seen any pitching. Bullpen pitching [is] even tougher. That’s why he’s so good. He keeps everything simple. He doesn’t read into anything. He just goes up there and hits, and he does a good job of that.”

Showalter said Young is one of those players that allows a manager to rest his head on his pillow when thinking about using him, because he’s always going to be ready. Young has rewarded that faith with big hits throughout the season.

But none were as dramatic as his game-winner on Friday, putting the Orioles in position to advance to the AL Championship Series with just one more win over the Tigers.

“We don’t know if magic is the word to use,” said Young about the Orioles scoring 12 eighth-inning runs in the first two games of the series. “We’re just trying to beat a very good ball club in Detroit.”

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Orioles’ strengths, Detroit’s weaknesses surface in Game 1

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Orioles’ strengths, Detroit’s weaknesses surface in Game 1

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — An eight-run inning naturally changed the narrative of the Orioles’ 12-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but the winning formula was already in place.

A couple home runs, solid starting pitching, and a bullpen as effective as any in the game had put the Orioles in position to seize the opening game of the series before they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. And that’s when Detroit’s biggest weaknesses surfaced in transforming a tightly-contested 4-3 game into a blowout before a maniacal 47,842 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Thursday night.

No, the formula wasn’t flawless as starter Chris Tillman’s high pitch count chased him after five innings and right-hander Darren O’Day surrendered a solo shot to Miguel Cabrera in the eighth, but manager Buck Showalter made it clear he was going to use his best bullpen assets — the trio of Andrew Miller, O’Day, and closer Zach Britton — to protect the opportunity. With Tillman at 105 pitches, Showalter went right to Miller in the sixth inning with the heart of the Detroit lineup — Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez — due up.

The big guns needed to be ready a little earlier than usual.

“We’ve talked to them since the season was over about how this was going to work,” Showalter said. “The way we have normally used them, they know that it’s all hands on deck. And it felt like that spot of their order was good for Andrew. And the next group of guys was good for Darren. I knew that I would pitch Zach in the eighth inning.”

Miller responded with 1 2/3 innings and O’Day got through an inning before allowing the homer to Cabrera. Britton then retired the only batter he faced to conclude the top of the eighth.

We’ll never know if the first-year closer would have pitched a clean ninth for the first four-out save of his career, because the Orioles lineup took advantage of the Tigers’ biggest deficiencies in the bottom half of the inning.

Despite the Tigers owning a more-balanced offense and the last three AL Cy Young Award winners in their rotation, their bullpen and defense lag far behind the Orioles in those areas, which led to their demise in turning a winnable contest into a humbling defeat. Errors by shortstop Andrew Romine and center fielder Rajai Davis didn’t help, but the trio of Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria, and Phil Coke only reinforced the many concerns about the Detroit bullpen throughout the season.

In contrast, the Orioles played crisp defense and allowed only one run in four innings of relief to go up 1-0 in the best-of-five series.

“I feel like everybody’s clicking right now at the same time,” said Miller, who expressed no concerns about bouncing back quickly after matching a season-high 32 pitches. “If you can get the ball to the next guy, we’re going to be in good shape. You trust that you go in there and give it your best until you run out of gas, and Buck asks the next guy to come in and we’re going to be pretty good.”

The offensive explosion in the Orioles’ final turn at the plate made the outcome elementary, but it will be interesting to see how Showalter handles his staff with such a quick turnaround Friday afternoon.

Game 2 starter Wei-Yin Chen will have his work cut out for him against a lineup that hit a league-leading .285 against left-handed pitching in the regular season, making you think the Orioles would be happy if he can give them five or six innings while keeping the score close. You’d imagine Showalter would prefer to stay away from Miller on Friday, but O’Day only threw 16 pitches and Britton five, meaning both will be available on Friday.

Perhaps we’ll see the flame-throwing Kevin Gausman as the change of pace behind Chen to bridge the gap to the late innings and put the Orioles in position to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Whatever the case, Showalter has options in the bullpen unlike Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who probably felt he was only throwing gasoline on the fire that was the bottom of the eighth.

On Thursday night, Baltimore’s biggest strengths and the Tigers’ most painful weaknesses came into focus, and it resulted in a convincing win for the Orioles.

“It’s a different season. It’s a different set of rules,” Showalter said. “Everything is different. Now your team has to make the adjustments, and I think our guys know that. We’ve got to figure out how to win two more games from these guys. It’s going to be tough.”

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Jimenez surprisingly included on Orioles’ ALDS roster

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Jimenez surprisingly included on Orioles’ ALDS roster

Posted on 02 October 2014 by Luke Jones

On the morning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Orioles announced their series roster with right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez the most surprising inclusion against the Detroit Tigers.

Manager Buck Showalter kept 11 pitchers and 14 position players for the best-of-five series with Jimenez and fellow right-hander Brad Brach included in the bullpen and left-handers T.J. McFarland and Brian Matusz left off the roster. With the Tigers lineup leaning heavily to the right side and feasting off southpaw pitching this season — hitting .285 against lefties — Showalter likely preferred Jimenez over McFarland as his long man in the pen.

With Jimenez’s ability to provide length in the event of extra innings or a starter being knocked out early, Showalter will have the luxury of shortening up right-hander Kevin Gausman to pitch in high-leverage situations in the late innings. Though he finished his first season in Baltimore with a 4.81 ERA and lost his spot in the starting rotation, Jimenez posted a 3.27 ERA in 11 innings during the month of September.

Of the Orioles’ 14 position players, infielders Kelly Johnson and Jimmy Paredes both made it along with speedy outfielder David Lough as it was unclear if all three would make the cut. Lough made it over outfielder Quintin Berry, who was primarily used as a pinch runner in the month of September.

Below is the ALDS roster, which can be altered should the Orioles advance to the AL Championship Series.

CATCHERS
Nick Hundley (R)
Caleb Joseph (R)

INFIELDERS
Ryan Flaherty (L)
J.J. Hardy (R)
Kelly Johnson (L)
Jimmy Paredes (S)
Steve Pearce (R)
Jonathan Schoop (R)

OUTFIELDERS
Nelson Cruz (R)
Alejandro De Aza (L)
Adam Jones (R)
David Lough (L)
Nick Markakis (L)
Delmon Young (R)

STARTING PITCHERS
LHP Wei-Yin Chen
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Bud Norris
RHP Chris Tillman

RELIEF PITCHERS
RHP Brad Brach
LHP Zach Britton
RHP Kevin Gausman
RHP Tommy Hunter
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Darren O’Day

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

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Tillman ready for next step as Orioles’ postseason ace

Posted on 01 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Just a few years ago, not many would have believed Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman would be the one taking the ball for the opening game of a playoff series.

Acquired with outfielder Adam Jones as the centerpieces of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008, Tillman carried a career 5.58 ERA in 36 starts over his first three major league seasons in which he shuffled back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. The struggles left him as an afterthought in many minds as the Orioles embarked on what turned out to be a surprising 2012 season that resulted in their first postseason appearance in 15 years.

It wasn’t until that July that Tillman finally got another chance in the rotation and established himself as a major league starter by going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 starts. Even with Tillman having such an impressive second half, manager Buck Showalter elected to send him to the bullpen in the 2012 playoffs where he did not pitch.

Last year, he established himself as the staff ace and was named to his first All-Star Game. And after being named the Opening Day starter for the first time earlier this year, Tillman will take another step in his dramatic progression by making his postseason debut against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday night.

“It has been a journey, to say the least,” Tillman said. “I had a couple of rough years early on and kind of turned things around come 2012. I think that goes to show where the organization is at, not just personally, but all the way throughout. … For myself, like I’ve always said, it’s a big puzzle, and you’re trying to find the pieces to it and put the puzzle together.”

Completing his second consecutive 200-inning season and posting a 20-start streak of allowing three or fewer earned runs that wasn’t snapped until his final outing of the regular season, Tillman’s final 2014 numbers that included a 13-6 record with a 3.34 ERA weren’t such a sure thing as late as early June. Slow starts in the early innings and poor fastball command led to Tillman holding a 5.20 ERA through his first 13 starts.

His early-inning pains and a lingering groin issue led many to wonder if a market correction was finally taking place after his superb 1 1/2 years, but the 26-year-old instead made adjustments and went on the most successful run of his career, posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts to not only silence doubters but make it an elementary choice for Showalter to choose him as the Game 1 starter against the Tigers.

“He’s just a really hard worker. I know his talent is really immense,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for how good he is. It’s a tough game. You don’t roll out here and put up Nintendo numbers like he has the last three or four months without being really good.”

Tillman will be opposed by 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, leading many to overlook the tall right-hander once again, but his numbers since early June suggest he is as dangerous as any starting pitcher remaining in the postseason. The only question will be how he responds to the limelight of his first playoff appearance, but Tillman is often praised by teammates and coaches alike for his even demeanor, which should allow him to handle what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

For the California native, it’s just another step and just another start, even while anticipating some butterflies.

“The only difference is the stakes are higher. I take every game the same way,” Tillman said. “They’re all important. There is not one that’s less important than the other. Once the game starts and the bell rings, that’s where we’re comfortable as a team. Might have extra feelings before the game, be nervous, but if you’re not nervous, you need to find another job.”

Hot corner, hot topic

When asked about how he anticipated handling the third base position, Showalter wasn’t tipping his hand Wednesday as the Orioles have given starts to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes, Kelly Johnson, and Alexi Casilla at the hot corner since Chris Davis was suspended for amphetamine use on Sept. 12.

The growing pains have been clear as the Orioles had appeared to settle on Davis as their regular replacement for the injured Gold Glove winner Manny Machado before the slugger was banned for 25 games, a stretch that makes him ineligible until the ninth game of the postseason should the club advance. Baltimore made seven errors at third base over the final 10 games of the regular season.

“I feel confident in the people that will be playing and they’ve got a good track record,” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to be as good as Manny. [He] had a historical year defensively, but we’ve been able to present ourselves well over there. I feel confident that we will continue to do that.”

Most believe Showalter will go with the strongest available defensive option in the postseason, which would be Flaherty despite the utility infielder committing three errors over his final four starts at third.

The 2012 Rule 5 pick said he is feeling more comfortable after getting extensive time at third base for the first time since the beginning of the year when he was filling in for the still-rehabbing Machado. Flaherty has made five errors in 27 starts and 255 1/3 total innings at third base this season.

“Part of my job here was to be able to be flexible and move around,” Flaherty said. “Getting over there the last couple weeks with Manny being gone, with Chris being gone [has helped]. You feel a little more comfortable the more you’re there.”

Rotation, roster remain secret

Showalter said Wednesday that he won’t announce the rest of his starting rotation until the conclusion of Game 1, but Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, and Bud Norris will be the three starters behind Chris Tillman — in some order.

The 23-year-old Kevin Gausman was told to be ready for Game 1, a surefire sign that he will pitch in relief during the Division Series. However, it remains to be seen how many will be joining him in the bullpen as the Orioles are debating whether to go with a six-man group of relievers and a six-man bench or seven relief pitchers and five on the bench. A six-man bullpen would include Gausman, closer Zach Britton, right-handers Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter, lefty Andrew Miller, and either righty-hander Brad Brach or left-hander Brian Matusz.

“The decision for us is going with 10 or 11 [pitchers], and we’ve kicked it around until we’re blue in the face like everybody does,” Showalter said. “If you knew exactly what was going to be needed for each game, it would be real easy to do.”

The deadline to finalize the Division Series roster is 10 a.m. Thursday.

“Cheerleader” Machado progressing well

Machado was back at Camden Yards to watch Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series before reporting to Sarasota to continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee.

The 22-year-old remains optimistic that he’ll be 100 percent for the start of spring training in February.

“I’m doing everything,” said Machado, who is embracing the role of cheering for teammates despite not being able to play. “Activating the muscles and trying to get my quads back. I’m basically full-go [in a] couple weeks, hopefully. I have full range of motion already, and hopefully in a couple weeks, I’ll start riding the bike and get that going.”

Mr. Oriole pays visit

Hall of Fame third baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson was a special guest speaker before the 2014 Orioles completed their workout at Camden Yards on Wednesday.

“His message was that he’s excited to see how excited Baltimore is,” Tillman said. “To us, that’s special. He’s been there. He’s been there for the World Series, for the playoffs, and he said this is the most fans he’s ever seen walking around the streets wearing their Baltimore Orioles jerseys and are proud of it.”

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

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Ten talking points for Orioles-Tigers ALDS matchup

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles prepare to play the Detroit Tigers for the first time ever in the postseason, here are 10 talking points to break down their meeting in the American League Division Series beginning Thursday night:

1. The outcome of the regular-season series between these clubs is irrelevant.

It’s generally unwise to make too much out of a six-game sample anyway, but the Tigers’ 5-1 mark against the Orioles during the regular season included taking two of three in Detroit the first weekend of April and a three-game sweep at Camden Yards in mid-May. Even if Detroit easily disposes of Baltimore and sweeps the Division Series, what happened between these clubs more than four months ago isn’t a good predictor when you acknowledge how much change each roster has undergone since then.

2. The Detroit rotation has the better pedigree, but the Orioles posted a superior starter ERA this season.

Yes, the Tigers have the bigger names and former Cy Young Award winners in David Price, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander, but the Orioles’ starting pitching ERA of 3.61 ranked fifth in the AL while Detroit’s 3.89 starter mark was only 10th. Consistency has been key for Baltimore as all four projected starters in the Division Series carry an ERA of 3.65 or better. Meanwhile, Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player in the AL, has been the weak link for Detroit with a 4.54 ERA this season. On paper, the Tigers have the edge in Games 1 and 3 with Scherzer and Price scheduled to pitch, but Games 2 and 4 will be much more interesting with Verlander struggling all year and Rick Porcello posting a 6.20 ERA in five September starts after throwing a career-high 204 2/3 innings this season.

3. Baltimore led the majors in home runs, but Detroit scored 52 more runs over the course of the year.

The Orioles’ offensive identity is clear as they’re very dependent on the home run and ranked 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and 13th in walks, which aren’t promising numbers when you’d prefer not see Detroit starters pitching deep into games. The Tigers also allowed the second-fewest number of homers in the AL this season. In contrast, the Detroit offense was second in the majors in runs scored, first in batting average, and second in on-base percentage. For an Orioles staff that’s been very effective without striking out many hitters (10th in the AL), location is always important, especially against a lineup as consistent as the Tigers. Anything can happen in a short five-game series, but the Orioles would benefit from the ball carrying at both Camden Yards and Comerica Park.

4. The Orioles have a clear advantage in the late innings.

The Orioles ranked third in the AL in bullpen ERA (3.10) while Detroit ranked 13th with a 4.29 ERA and saw its bullpen nearly derail the season on a number of occasions. Baltimore’s late-inning trio of lefty Andrew Miller, submariner Darren O’Day, and closer Zach Britton is as good as any you’ll find in the postseason while the Tigers have held on tight with 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan, who sports a 4.81 ERA and has blown seven saves in his first year with Detroit. The X factors that could make the bullpen better for Detroit are usual-starter Anibal Sanchez — who is back from injury — and Joakim Soria, who has closer experience and has posted a 1.35 ERA since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. But if manager Brad Ausmus blindly trusts Nathan and even setup man Joba Chamberlain, he’s really rolling the dice.

5. The Tigers’ speed on the bases will be an issue for Orioles catchers.

Unlike the station-to-station Orioles who stole fewer bases (44) than anyone in baseball, Detroit isn’t afraid to run and ranked fourth in the AL with 106 steals. However, 36 of those came from outfielder Rajai Davis, who is currently nursing a groin injury that could limit him in the Division Series. The Tigers’ speed will force manager Buck Showalter to take pause when choosing between Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley behind the plate. Joseph has thrown out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal this season while Hundley has gunned down only 19 percent. The problem is Joseph is currently mired in an 0-for-30 slump and has been more erratic behind the plate down the stretch, which could indicate late-season fatigue.

6. The Baltimore defense is substantially better than Detroit’s.

Even without two Gold Glove winners for much of the season, the Orioles have still played defense at an extremely high level, committing the third-fewest number of errors in the AL and ranking third in defensive efficiency, according to BaseballReference.com. Meanwhile, the Tigers committed 14 more errors than Baltimore and ranked next to last in the AL in defensive efficiency. The Tigers also had five players — Davis, first baseman Miguel Cabrera, regular designated hitter Victor Martinez, outfielder Torii Hunter, and third baseman Nick Castellanos — with a defensive WAR (wins above replacement) of -1.0 or worse while Baltimore didn’t have a single player with a defensive WAR worse than -0.9, per BaseballReference.com.

7. Camden Yards was a more pitcher-friendly venue than Comerica Park this season.

Historically, Oriole Park at Camden Yards as been a pitcher’s nightmare while Comerica has played pretty evenly to pitchers and hitters alike, but 2014 has painted a much difference picture in Baltimore as Camden Yards has ranked 22nd in runs and 20th in home runs using ESPN’s park factors. Run scoring and home runs hit have been down at Camden Yards this season, which might be explained in part by the mild temperatures experienced in the area this summer compared to most years in which the ball tends to fly out in the summer months. Orioles pitchers allowed fewer homers and posted a lower ERA at Camden Yards than they did on the road while it wasn’t until the final month or so that Baltimore hitters finally started feasting at their home park, finishing the season with three more homers at home than on the road. Will this make a dramatic impact on the ALDS? Probably not with the cooler temperatures of October anyway, but it’s something to remember as analysts constantly mention the comfy dimensions of Camden Yards this October.

8. Defense at third base is an issue for both clubs.

The Orioles’ concerns at third base have been discussed extensively recently with Ryan Flaherty the most likely to handle the bulk of the work at the position during the ALDS, but Detroit has dealt with its own issues at the hot corner with Castellanos, who posted a respectable .700 on-base plus slugging percentage as a 22-year-old rookie but is a much better fit in the outfield. His 15 errors don’t appear to be a major concern on the surface, but fielding metrics show very limited range and his defensive WAR of -2.7 is the worst mark on the Tigers. As a result, Castellanos is frequently replaced by utility infielder Don Kelly in the late innings. While Castellanos has more potential with the bat than any of the Orioles’ current options at third base, it will be interesting to see if defense at the hot corner has a significant impact for either club at some point during the series.

9. It will be intriguing watching a rookie manager match wits with a seasoned skipper.

Always respected for his baseball mind as a longtime major league catcher, Ausmus will be making his postseason managerial debut against Buck Showalter, who is making his fourth playoff appearance and second with the Orioles and carries 16 years of major-league experience as a manager. With Detroit’s bullpen being so inconsistent, how far Ausmus is willing to push his starter on any given night will be a factor to watch. In contrast, Showalter has so many trustworthy bullpen pieces that he won’t hesitate to call to the bullpen sooner rather than later in a tight game. As mentioned before, third base has likely provided some restless nights for Showalter, but there isn’t too much mystery with the lineup beyond that. How the inexperienced Ausmus manages his pitching staff will be one of the big stories of the series.

10. Beware of bad blood.

While the Orioles’ 1-5 record against Detroit in April and May might not mean much, there was some bad blood between these clubs earlier in the season that’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. On May 12, Bud Norris was pitching a terrific game into the eighth before surrendering a two-run homer to Ian Kinsler to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead. Norris responded by plunking the next hitter Hunter in the ribs, which prompted the pitcher’s ejection as both benches and bullpens emptied before order was restored. Verlander retaliated two days later by throwing a fastball behind slugger Nelson Cruz, which brought a warning to both sides. You certainly hope that cooler heads prevail with those events taking place so long ago and the high stakes of October now in front of both clubs, but you never know for sure.

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