Orioles complete sweep of Tigers, advance to the ALCS

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The Orioles are headed to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997. The AL East champs defeated the AL Central champion Tigers 2-1 in Game 3 of the ALDS in Detroit on Saturday, completing a series sweep.

Starter Bud Norris blanked the Tigers over 6 1/3 innings, holding them to just two hits and two walks while striking out six. Nelson Cruz helped put Norris in line for the win in the top of the sixth when he laced a David Price change-up down the right field line for a two-run home run, breaking a scoreless tie.

Andrew Miller fired 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, and closer Zach Britton escaped danger after allowing back-to-back doubles to Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez to open up the ninth inning. Britton struck out Bryan Holaday. Then, after intentionally walking Nick Castellanos to set up a double play, induced a 5-4-3 double play out of pinch-hitter Hernan Perez to finish off the ballgame.

Price was strong, despite allowing the home run to Cruz. He went eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a pair of walks while striking out six. That’s enough for a win most of the time, just not on this particular evening.

Game 3 had two controversial calls by umpires. One occurred in the second inning, when Andrew Romine dragged a bunt towards the first base side with a runner on third base and two outs. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop charged, scooped the ball with his glove-hand, and shoveled it to first baseman Steve Pearce. First base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, which was promptly challenged by Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. Replays showed that the play was extremely close, but there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the initial call. As expected, the call was upheld and the Tigers were denied the run and the base runner, ending the inning.

The second controversial ruling came in the bottom of the third. The Tigers had Don Kelly on second base and one out with Torii Hunter at the plate. Hunter hit a ground ball to the left side, fielded quickly by shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was shifted further to his right with the right-handed Hunter at the plate. Hardy threw to Schoop at second base as Kelly had ventured too far off of the bag. Schoop, however, did not catch the ball cleanly and it dropped. Schoops momentum had taken him into the base path, and he blocked Kelly’s lane back to the bag. Schoop reached over Kelly for the ball and tagged him out. Ausmus asked the umpires to confer about possible obstruction. After discussing the issue, the umpires ruled that there had been no obstruction.

While the Tigers could very easily have won Game 3 had either umpire ruling gone differently, or if Cruz’s home run had been a couple feet shorter or to the right, they are ultimately out of the playoffs due to their bullpen, which allowed seven runs in Game 1 and four runs in Game 2.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.