Orioles starter Brad Bergesen, left, talks with catcher Matt… (US PRESSWIRE photo )
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A few of the Orioles lingered, watching the Tampa Bay Rays' celebration from the top step of the visiting dugout. Young infielders Brandon Snyder and Robert Andino hung around for a while before grabbing their gloves and trudging to the clubhouse.
Veteran reliever Michael Gonzalez, whose close friend, Rafael Soriano, had just thrown a pitch past Adam Jones to secure a 5-0 victory over the Orioles and the second playoff berth in franchise history, stayed the longest, resting his chin on the dugout railing while peering out toward the celebration in front of the mound.
Jones, who had just taken the final meek swing on a night full of them for the Orioles, walked briskly to the dugout and never bothered to turn around as the Rays rushed the field and mobbed Soriano in front of an announced 17,891 at Tropicana Field.
"It's not me celebrating, so why the hell would I want to watch somebody else celebrate?" Jones said. "Nobody wants to see nobody be clinched on. Let's face it, nobody wants to see it, but it happens. A lot of respect to them. They deserve it."
As the Orioles filed to the clubhouse, the Rays bounced around the field in unison. They exchanged rounds of hugs and handshakes and passed around commemorative T-shirts and hats. Then, they emptied plenty of bottles of champagne, both on fans seated behind the dugout and on one another in the victorious home clubhouse.
It was a festive but not over-the-top celebration from a Rays team that was satisfied with its accomplishment but has its eyes on much bigger celebrations in the days ahead.
"Obviously, you revel in that moment, but what's different this year is I'm already looking forward to the next moment," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose club is two years removed from going to the World Series. "It gets to the point where you expect to be in the playoffs on a regular basis. I'm not saying it isn't still magical, but you're a little more pragmatic, in a sense, the second time through. I'm exalted in that moment, but immediately, I'm already thinking about what happens next. We still have other goals in mind: to win the division, best record and we go on from there."
The Orioles (62-95) knew it was probably inevitable that the Rays (94-63), who lead the American League East by a half game over the New York Yankees, would clinch a playoff berth during the three-game series. After all, Tampa Bay needed just one victory or a Boston Red Sox loss.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter went as to far to say that if it happened, he hoped several of his players would hang around to watch the Rays celebrate. The Orioles delayed the celebration one day, thanks to seven shutout innings by rookie Brian Matusz in Monday's series opener.
But they were powerless to do it again with Rays ace David Price in top form for eight shutout innings and Orioles starter Brad Bergesen turning in his worst start in nearly two months.
"I'm sure some of our guys who have been playing for a while have been around that before, but it's a combination of emotion and a lot of work to get to the point where you get a chance to roll the dice in October. And that's all it is," Showalter said. "You are lucky to get an opportunity because October is a completely different game of baseball in a lot of ways. You see the emotion and release of a lot of pent-up things that sometimes you want something to much. But I want our guys to understand that this was an organization [that] not very long ago wasn't near as successful as where they are perceived right now."
Jones wasn't buying into the theory that experiencing the Rays' celebration would serve as motivation for an Orioles team that is trying to become competitive again in the AL East.
"We all know what winning is like, probably not all at this level, but we all know what winning is like," he said. "We don't want to have to watch somebody else win to know what it is like."
Bergesen felt differently, saying, "I think [with] what we've done in the last couple months, we really started to believe in ourselves, so hopefully we are going to turn this thing around and come in with some momentum for next year."
Bergesen (8-11), who entered the game with a 2.31 ERA in his past 10 starts, allowed five earned runs on six hits and three walks to fall to 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in four career outings against Tampa Bay. He surrendered solo homers to Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford, and without command of his secondary pitches, he never got comfortable against a Rays lineup that featured seven left-handed hitters.