DETROIT — A runaway title in a division of behemoths, then an unexpected sweep against a trio of Cy Young Award winners.
For Nelson Cruz, Buck Showalter and this unheralded bunch from Baltimore, the question now is: What's next?
Cruz sliced a two-run homer for his latest big postseason hit and the Orioles held off the Tigers 2-1 Sunday to reach the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997.
Bud Norris outpitched former Rays ace David Price in Game 3 of their division series. The Tigers scored in the ninth inning and put the tying run on second with no outs, but Orioles closer Zach Britton escaped the jam to lift Showalter into his first league championship series in 16 seasons as a big-league manager.
"This is fun to watch. Believe me, I'm happier than you can imagine," Showalter said. "But most of it comes from getting to see the players get what they've put into it."
Baltimore opens the ALCS on Friday.
"We've got a lot to go, and we're grinding," outfielder Adam Jones said. "If we play as a team, we can do anything."
So often an afterthought in the rugged AL East, the Orioles won their first division title since 1997, dispatching the second-place Yankees by 12 games. That put Baltimore up against another of the game's most star-laden rosters, and Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and the rest of the Tigers couldn't manage a single win.
Cruz's homer was his 16th in postseason play, including eight against the Tigers. He was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS for the Rangers in a six-game victory over Detroit.
Cruz spent much of last offseason without a team after serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug agreement.
"He knows things were self-inflicted," Showalter said. "He really wanted to re-establish himself, and we thought that we could provide a real good opportunity for him and the sky might be the limit."
Price pitched eight impressive innings, allowing only Cruz's home run with Jones on base in the sixth. But he was outdueled by Norris, who had possibly his best start of the season with 61/3 shutout innings.
The Tigers acquired Price from Tampa Bay at this year's trade deadline, giving them the past three Cy Young Award winners. It wasn't enough.
"It stinks, because this is the best team I've ever been on," Price said. "To get knocked out in the first round, it's never fun."