DETROIT — With the season on the line and the tying run at second, Detroit turned to a pinch-hitter with five at-bats during the regular season.
Detroit was swept out of the postseason Sunday when the Baltimore Orioles held on for a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the AL Division Series. The Tigers won their fourth straight AL Central title this year, but their collection of Cy Young Award winners and MVPs couldn't make up for a poor bullpen and a lineup with its share of holes.
"We got beat. There's all there is to say," right-hander Max Scherzer said. "We got outplayed in the series in every facet."
Nelson Cruz sliced a two-run homer for his latest big postseason hit, and Bud Norris outpitched David Price on Sunday. The Tigers scored in the ninth and put the tying run on second with no outs, but Orioles closer Zach Britton escaped the jam to put Baltimore in the AL Championship Series.
"We've got a lot to go and we're grinding," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. "If we play as a team, we can do anything."
Cruz's homer was his 16th in postseason play, including eight against the Tigers. He was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS for Texas in a six-game victory over Detroit.
Norris pitched two-hit ball for 6 1-3 innings, and Andrew Miller got five straight outs to keep the shutout going.
Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez opened the ninth with back-to-back doubles off Britton. Bryan Holaday struck out after a failed bunt attempt, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter made the unconventional decision to put the winning run on base by intentionally walking Nick Castellanos.
That meant the bottom of Detroit's lineup would have to come through. The Tigers sent up seldom-used infielder Hernan Perez to pinch-hit, and he bounced a 96 mph fastball into a 5-4-3 double play. It was Britton's second save of the series.
After reaching at least the ALCS the last three seasons, Detroit couldn't make it there this year. The Tigers remain without a World Series title since 1984 — a drought one year shorter than Baltimore's.
"It's disappointing. You feel like you let the fans down and you feel like you let the organization down," said Brad Ausmus, who replaced Jim Leyland as Detroit's manager after last season.
Detroit acquired Price at this year's trade deadline, adding another impressive arm to an already-formidable rotation. Scherzer, Price and Verlander are the AL's last three Cy Young Award winners, and the Tigers started them all in this series. Verlander and Cabrera have combined for the last three MVP awards.
No use against a Baltimore team that had already surprised most of baseball with a 96-win regular season.
After dropping the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore — the second thanks to an eighth-inning collapse by the bullpen — the Tigers returned home to a fairly subdued crowd at Comerica Park.
In the third, Don Kelly was on second with one out when Torii Hunter hit a grounder to the left side. Kelly was caught between second and third and tried to slide headfirst back to second. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop initially dropped the throw from shortstop J.J. Hardy, then quickly picked up the ball and tagged Kelly.
An umpire supervisor said through Major League Baseball spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige that Schoop was still in the act of fielding the ball, so it was not obstruction.
"It was probably more incidentally than anything else, going after the ball," Ausmus said. "I don't know that anything could be done in that situation."
Cruz led the majors with 40 homers this season, and the Orioles topped baseball with 211. It was his two-run homer in the first inning of the opener that set the series tone, and he came through again in the sixth inning Sunday against Price. Cruz's drive cleared the wall in right, about 2 feet to the left of the foul pole.
Not bad for a guy the Orioles signed in late February. Cruz turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer that would have kept him with Texas — but he ended up having to settle for an $8 million, one-year contract with Baltimore that included $750,000 in roster bonuses.
Cabrera and Verlander have been signed to long-term contracts, but Scherzer, Victor Martinez and Hunter are entering free agency, meaning Detroit's roster could look a lot different next year. Retirement is a possibility for Hunter.
"Don't know what the future holds for me," Hunter said. "I'll talk it over with my wife and see what happens."