Orioles win division Victory in Toronto gives club first title since 1983

September 25, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- In last night's understated way, they rolled it around like a cigar and savored it like a fine champagne. The Orioles, a team again in touch with a proud tradition, finished a historic rush to their first American League East title in 14 years by beating the Toronto Blue Jays. Once more, they call themselves champions.

Randy Myers threw the last pitch. Cal Ripken caught the last out, just as he did when the Orioles won the 1983 World Series. Manager Davey Johnson settled for the last word.

"We did it. We went wire-to-wire," said Johnson between puffs on a cigar. "We had a lot of adversity, but that showed the character of this club. I like my chances. I'm proud of these guys. We endured some bad spells, but we came back. It's an amazing group of guys. We had a lot of adversity, but we overcame every obstacle."

The Seattle Mariners represent the next obstacle. The Orioles will begin a best-of-five Division Series Wednesday in the Kingdome. To a man, they say it is where they've always belonged.

"We expected this from ourselves," said center fielder Brady Anderson. "No one here is surprised by this. Now, we take the next step."

Officially painting the American League East orange and black, they clinched it by beating the Blue Jays, 9-3, in SkyDome. They also became only the sixth team in major-league history to lead from the first day of the season to the last.

"This is something rare something extremely special, and I think everyone connected with it, from Mr. [Peter] Angelos [the Orioles owner] on down appreciates it," said Orioles assistant general -- manager Kevin Malone. "This didn't happen by accident. For us to finish ahead of the defending world champions [the New York Yankees] in arguably one of the toughest divisions in baseball is something to be proud of."

The wire-to-wire title was the third in American League history. Only the epic 1927 Yankees and 1984 Detroit Tigers had led every day of an AL schedule. Both teams rolled to World Series titles.

"It'sspecial. You're the last one standing," Johnson said.

"I think they realize what a feat this is. It has meaning. You can't do it much better."

Last night's long-awaited clinch at SkyDome -- the same setting in which the Orioles claimed last year's wild-card berth -- capped a season that had a pitching-dependent team take a commanding lead early, wobble briefly around the All-Star break, then survive an unsettling stretch run that dropped its lead to three games entering Tuesday's game.

Johnson called a pre-game clubhouse meeting that night, emphasizing the team's overall accomplishments, then looked on as rookie Nerio Rodriguez out-dueled 21-game winner Roger Clemens.

Unlike their two American League predecessors, the Orioles had to overcome significant injuries and illness, including the absence of right fielder Eric Davis for 3 1/2 months because of colon cancer.

"This is what you play for -- to win," said designated hitter Geronimo Berroa, acquired on June 27 from the league's worst team, the Oakland Athletics.

"Everybody is still playing right now. But this team is playing to win. There is a difference."

Wire to wire

The Orioles clinched the AL East last night to become the sixth team this century to spend every day in first place. A look at the others, all of which advanced to the World Series:

Team .......... Year .. World Series result

N.Y. Giants ... 1923 .. Lost to N.Y. Yankees, 4-2

N.Y. Yankees .. 1927 .. Beat Pittsburgh, 4-0

Brooklyn ...... 1953 .. Lost to N.Y. Yankees, 4-2

Detroit ....... 1984 .. Beat San Diego, 4-1

Cincinnati .... 1990 .. Beat Oakland, 4-0

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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