BALTIMORE — Nelson Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles had the good fortune of avoiding Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer during the regular season.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
In his 2014 debut against the hard-hitting Orioles, Scherzer found out quickly that a poor pitch can go a long way — in the other direction.
Cruz and J.J. Hardy homered, and Baltimore hammered out 12 hits in defeating Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers 12-3 Thursday in the opener of their AL Division Series.
“I just left too many pitches up,” Scherzer said. “This is a great-hitting ballclub. You give them a chance to extend their arms, they can really hit it.”
Jonathan Schoop and Alejandro De Aza each had two hits and two RBIs for the Orioles, who turned a close game into a rout with an eight-run eighth inning against Scherzer and three ineffective relievers.
The 12 runs set a postseason record for Baltimore, making its second playoff appearance since 1997.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday at Camden Yards. Justin Verlander, the second of three straight Cy Young winners the Orioles will face, is set to go against left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.
Verlander must avoid the mistakes made by Scherzer, who allowed five runs and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings. The right-hander was 18-5 during the regular season, but in this one he was burned by the long ball and outpitched by the Orioles.
“I’ve got to find a way to get the ball down,” Scherzer said. “I wasn’t quite able to do that tonight, and I paid for it.”
Cruz led the majors with 40 homers during the regular season, a good portion of Baltimore’s big league-best 211 long balls. His first-inning drive off Scherzer put the Orioles up 2-0 before Detroit’s Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez connected off Chris Tillman in the second to tie it.
But Baltimore had too much firepower for the Tigers. Hardy led off the seventh by driving a poorly thrown changeup from Scherzer over the center-field wall for a 4-2 lead.
“The one that stings is that J.J. Hardy home run,” Scherzer said. “That home run really changed the game in my eyes, gave them that insurance run.”
Cruz added his third RBI with a single during a wild eighth inning keyed by a Detroit error that kept the boisterous, orange-clad crowd of 47,842 on its feet.
Five different Orioles finished with two hits. Clearly, facing Scherzer was not too daunting a task.
“It’s the same game,” De Aza said. “Yes, this is a good pitcher, but it’s the same game. You have to throw the ball to home plate for a strike to get us out.”
Tillman (1-0) allowed two runs in five innings before Andrew Miller got five outs — three by strikeout. Darren O’Day gave up an eighth-inning homer to Miguel Cabrera, but the drive followed a double play.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter then called upon closer Zach Britton, who had 37 saves during the regular season. Britton got the last out in the eighth, and by the time the ninth inning rolled around, he wasn’t needed anymore.
Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with Baltimore, O’Day finished at 1.70 and Britton closed at 1.65. That’s one big reason why the AL East-champion Orioles were 80-4 when leading after eight innings.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s revamped bullpen looked shaky — although it was shortstop Andrew Romine’s error that got the big eighth inning going.
“I can’t remember the last time he made an error at shortstop,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “This was an unfortunate one, but it doesn’t change my mind on him as a shortstop.”
Although he had a 5.56 ERA in the first inning during the regular season, Tillman began his initial foray into the playoffs in impressive fashion by striking out the side on 14 pitches.
Cruz hit an opposite-field drive to right in the bottom half after Nick Markakis hit a leadoff single. It was his 15th career postseason home run, tied with Babe Ruth for 10th place on the career list.
“It’s just I like to enjoy this moment, you know,” Cruz said. “I think as a player, you want to be in the situation. And, you know, it’s no reason.”
The rollicking, towel-waving fans had barely settled down when Victor Martinez led off the second with a towering shot over the right-field wall. Four pitches later, J.D. Martinez hit a tying homer in his first postseason at-bat.
Nick Markakis answered with an RBI single in the Baltimore half. At that point, six of 10 batters reached safely against Scherzer.
After yielding the back-to-back homers, Tillman retired the next 11 batters before Romine singled with two outs in the fifth. Another single and a walk loaded the bases for Torii Hunter, who hit into a fielder’s choice on Tillman’s 105th and final pitch.
Afterward, Showalter saluted the crowd for their enthusiasm.
“If you don’t get that, you’re too cold for his game,” he said. “I wish I would have had a towel.”
Tigers: CF Rajai Davis (pelvic strain) was cleared to play after passing a series of drills early in the day before rosters were finalized. Davis started and batted ninth.
Tigers: Verlander (15-12, 4.54 ERA) makes his 16th postseason start following what manager Brad Ausmus called “a down season overall” for the 2011 Cy Young Award winner.
Orioles: Chen (16-6, 3.54) seeks his first win since Sept. 15 after losing his final two starts in the regular season.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.