DETROIT - When the Detroit Tigers acquired David Price at this year's trade deadline, they appeared to have assembled a powerful starting rotation that could carry them deep into the post-season.
Now, Price will take the mound for the first time in these playoffs — and Detroit is already facing elimination.
"This is the time you want to be able to step up for your team, for your fan base, for the city of Detroit," the star left-hander said Saturday. "This is a special moment, to be able to go out there and throw my game, and that's what I plan on doing."
The Tigers dropped the first two games of this AL Division Series in Baltimore, unable to overcome a shaky bullpen that has been a problem all year. Price shut down Minnesota on the final day of the regular season to lift Detroit to a fourth straight AL Central title, but the stakes will be higher Sunday against the Orioles in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
Baltimore counters with right-hander Bud Norris, who went 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA in September.
"I've pitched in some big games in my career. This obviously might be the biggest," Norris said. "But as far as I'm concerned, it's another 60 feet, 6 inches. I'm just going to go out there and compete and pitch as best I can."
Detroit's starting rotation was transcendent at times during the last two postseasons, and the addition of Price gave the Tigers the last three American League Cy Young Award winners. The other two — Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — started the first two games of this series, and the Orioles won them both anyway.
"I think that's the backbone of our team, has been our starting pitching, so we feel like there's some depth there," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "You don't want to be down 0-2 in any series, but we are at home, we have David Price going (Sunday) and we have Rick (Porcello) on Monday, if we have Monday."
The question facing the Tigers isn't just how effective their big-name starters will be — it's how long they can stay in the game. Verlander was taken out in the sixth inning of Game 2 after 101 pitches, and although Detroit led 6-3 in the eighth, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria gave up the lead.
Chamberlain has retired one batter over the first two games of this series, allowing four earned runs and three hits. He was still in a relaxed mood in the clubhouse Saturday. Chamberlain, who went to college at Nebraska, was preparing to head to East Lansing to see the Cornhuskers play Michigan State in football Saturday night.
Price's presence gives the Tigers a bit of confidence, but the starting pitcher can only do so much.
"Obviously, we've got one of the best guys in the game going right now, so obviously we're in a good situation there," Chamberlain said. "We've still got to do everything else that combines that nine-inning game, but at the end of the day, we're going to go out and be the team we've been all year. It's put us in a good position. It's put us in some tight positions, but we've come out and we know what we're going to do."
Chamberlain posted a 4.97 ERA after the All-Star break, and closer Joe Nathan has worked in and out of trouble all year. Ausmus stuck with them down the stretch, but he was vague Saturday when asked how the bullpen might line up if needed this weekend.
"We will have to wait and see what happens in the game," Ausmus said. "I invite you to come down and watch it."
The only lift the bullpen has received so far in this series has been from Anibal Sanchez, who was part of Detroit's rotation before going down with a pectoral injury in August. Sanchez pitched two scoreless innings of relief in Game 2, and Ausmus says he will be available Sunday if needed.
For the Orioles, the rotation is more of a concern than the bullpen, but Baltimore scored 19 runs in the first two games.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter is trying to reach the League Championship Series for the first time. In his first post-season appearance — in 1995 with the New York Yankees — Showalter's team won the first two games of the ALDS before losing three in a row to Seattle.
That year, it was Showalter with the problematic bullpen — only rookie Mariano Rivera was particularly reliable in that series.
Now, Showalter's bullpen has given his Orioles the upper hand against Detroit, and they are one win away from advancing — but with Price on the mound, the Tigers are still a formidable opponent.
"They won the American League Central, and they did some really good things with all their players," Showalter said. "I've said before that when this thing's over, the team that wins is going to have some weaknesses, and the teams that are eliminated are going to have some strengths, but it's a cold world this time of year."
NOTES: Showalter was asked about slugger Chris Davis, who was suspended last month following a positive test for an amphetamine. The 25-game suspension came with 17 left in the regular season, so the Orioles would need to advance for him to have any chance of returning. "If we don't win one more game against Detroit, nothing is going to come next," Showalter said. "That's something we will turn our attention to if and when his days are up. ... I talk with Chris as often as possible."