"You definitely can't go today? My boss gave me two tickets in section 54."
Needless to say, I crunched the numbers on my annual leave and figured out that I could spare a few hours to cheer on the Orioles in Game Two of the Division Series...especially from a vantage point above the visitors' dugout. By the time we both left work, met up, and found parking, the game was already underway. But we only missed the top of the first inning, so we had a close view of all of the excitement. Seated at the end of our row was a gentleman in an orange Bobby Grich throwback jersey; he certainly had better taste than the guy who was spotted in an Armando Benitez jersey at last night's game. I had worried that the park might be less than full for a noon start time on a Friday, but I was off the mark. Attendance was 48,058, a sellout plus standing room, and the orange towels and shouts and cheers and applause seemed to reach critical mass as Nick Markakis gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead with a third-inning homer off of Justin Verlander; it was Nick's first ever postseason four-bagger.
Things took a troubling turn in the top of the fourth, as Wei-Yin Chen managed to give up five runs on just ten pitches. The big blow was a three-run homer by Miguel Cabrera, who was kind enough to gesture toward the fans as he jogged home, shouting and taunting like a real champion. The Tigers had gotten the best of Baltimore's lefty starter, but they didn't have much luck against his replacement. Kevin Gausman relieved Chen with two outs in the inning and a runner on first, and proceeded to retire nine of the first ten batters he faced, striking out five and yielding only a single to Torii Hunter. Hunter was promptly wiped out thanks to an incredible Flaherty-Schoop-Pearce double play. Gausman ran out of gas in the eighth inning, and a Victor Martinez double pushed the Tigers lead back to three at 6-3. Still, Cabrera was gunned down at the plate on the play and Brad Brach got the O's out of the jam.
After Thursday night's eight-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth, even a three-run deficit didn't seem hopeless. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus perked up the Baltimore fans by pulling pitcher Anibal Sanchez after two perfect innings of relief and turning instead to husky, bearded ex-Yankee Joba Chamberlain, one of the goats of the previous evening. Joba exhibited more self-awareness than Miguel Cabrera by sardonically tipping his cap to the crowd when they greeted him with loud cheers. The noise only grew as he facilitated an Oriole rally by plunking Adam Jones and yielding back-to-back singles to Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce. Now it was 6-4, and J. J. Hardy came to bat representing the go-ahead run with one out. He faced Joakim Soria (another Game One whipping boy) and walked on five pitches to load the bases. Earlier in the inning, I asked my sister when she thought Buck Showalter would let Delmon Young pinch hit. He was an unfathomable 10-for-20 in that role during the regular season, and has had a flair for the dramatic in recent postseason experiences with the Tigers and Rays. Sure enough, Delmon strode to the plate in Ryan Flaherty's spot in the batting order, and before you could say "boo", number 27 jumped all over a 79-mph slider from Soria, slicing it into the left field corner. Nelson Cruz jogged home, windmilling his left arm to urge Pearce home behind him. Outfielder J. D. Martinez had a bit of trouble coming up with the ball, so Birds third base coach Bobby Dickerson sent Hardy home as well. He slid at just the right moment, slapping home plate with his left hand a split second before being tagged by catcher Alex Avila. 7-6, Orioles. Mayhem.