Orioles buckle Tigers' knees in opener, 12-3
Baltimore — Caution: Birds of prey in the area, capable of taking down large mammals.
Such as Tigers — as the Orioles did 12-3 in their American League Division Series opener Thursday night.
The Tigers had shown the Orioles all the proper respect since finding out they'd be their initial opposition in the playoffs.
They'd praised them up and down for being the fine team they are.
But after coming up miserably short, and having their bullpen collapse in an eight-run eighth, the Tigers better be careful the Orioles don't end up as their only opposition in the playoffs.
The opener was a case of two games in one: The first a nip-and-tuck one in which the Tigers trailed 4-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth, after Miguel Cabrera's home run in the top of the inning narrowed it to a one-run margin.
The second was the runaway the Orioles turned the nail-biter into, chasing starter Max Scherzer in the eighth before roughing up Joba Chamberlain and especially Joakim Soria.
"The outcome wasn't exactly what we hoped, but it's also over," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Trust me, this will be in the rear-view mirror in the morning."
Pitching in a thankless situation, some of the damage in the eighth was done with Phil Coke on the mound.
"Until then," Ausmus said, "it was a really good game."
Not ready to put the blame entirely on his bullpen, Ausmus said, "It was a team effort. We just didn't get it done."
Shortstop Andrew Romine made a key one-out error in the eighth, but that was compounded by the five hits that followed it, three of them off Soria.
So instead of a suspenseful ninth inning, all the final pitch with the bases loaded for the Tigers accomplished was to end a rout.
What's more, in a game the long ball had dominated earlier, none of the Orioles runs in the eighth were the product of home runs.
The teams exchanged uppercuts in the first two innings, the Tigers hitting two home runs in the first two innings to one for the Orioles.
Nelson Cruz did two-run damage off Scherzer in the first, Cruz picking up with a two-run home run where he left off in the 2011 American League Championship Series, in which he hit six home runs in six games for the victorious Rangers.
The Tigers immediately countered, with consecutive home runs to right by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.
Neither team scored after Nick Markakis put the Orioles in front with an RBI single in the third until J.J. Hardy's home run leading off the seventh.
It was off Scherzer in 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Info, that Hardy hit his first major league home run — Hardy playing for Milwaukee then and Scherzer pitching for Arizona.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman didn't last near as long as Scherzer, five innings compared to 7-1/3.
Scherzer settled down after the second to keep the Tigers in it as late as the eighth.
About Tillman, former Orioles pitcher Jim Johnson — who finished the season with the Tigers — said, "He used to get in trouble early. He'd have 100 pitches by the fifth inning."
There was no "used to" about it. After five innings, mostly because of the enormous number of foul balls the Tigers had, Tillman left after 104 pitches.
Ian Kinsler alone fouled off 16 pitches his first three at-bats, including nine in his second at-bat.
Tillman was throwing good pitches. The Tigers didn't have a hit that wasn't a home run until Romine's single in the fifth. But his pitch count was driven up so high, he was gone by the sixth.
Scherzer, meanwhile, turned a corner after the second inning. You could see the swagger return after he struck out Adam Jones and Cruz for the first two outs of the third.
Swagger often returns with well-executed pitches. And that's what Scherzer got back to.
He wasn't happy, though, when he left in the eighth.
"I was frustrated with how I pitched tonight," he said. "Walking off the mound, I felt like I hadn't done my job to the fullest."
The way the game began had been rough for the Tigers. But nowhere near as rough as it ended.