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.

Jim Crane thought the heat over sign-stealing would blow over by spring training

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The Astros’ sign-stealing story broke in November, a steady drumbeat of coverage of it lasted through December and into January, when Rob Manfred’s report came out about it. The report was damning and, in its wake, Houston’s manager and general manger were both suspended and then fired.

After that a steady stream of media reports came out which not only made the whole affair seem even worse than Manfred’s report suggested, but which also suggested that, on some level, Major League Baseball had bungled it all and it was even worse than it had first seemed.

Rather than Manfred and the Astros putting this all behind them, the story grew. As it grew, both the Red Sox and Mets fired their managers and, in a few isolated media appearances, Astros’ players seemed ill-prepared for questions on it all. Once spring training began the Astros made even worse public appearances and, for the past week and change, each day has given us a new player or three angrily speaking out about how mad they are at the Astros and how poorly they’ve handled all of this.

Why have they handled it so poorly? As always, look to poor leadership:

Guess not.

In other news, Crane was — and I am not making this up — recently named the Houston Sports Executive of the Year. An award he has totally, totally earned, right?