Wait is over: Orioles are back in playoffs

Despite delayed celebration, O's set to make long-awaited return to postseason

September 30, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

After 14 years of losing, you knew it wasn't going to be easy.

The Orioles wanted their playoff-clinching party to begin at Camden Yards on Sunday. And they did their part with a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox and their Dead Manager Walking, Bobby Valentine.

The champagne was chilling in the Orioles' clubhouse. The plastic covering the lockers was in place. Even the media broke out rain gear because we dress too stylishly in our drab polos and relaxed-fit jeans to get splashed on.

“Everything was ready to roll in here,” first baseman Mark Reynolds said.

But ultimately the sweet spray of bubbly was put on hold because 1,300 miles away in Arlington, Texas, the Los Angeles Angels beat the Rangers in the first game of a double-header to keep their faint playoff hopes alive and keep the Orioles from celebrating just yet.

Not until Sunday night, after they had left for Tampa for their final three games, would the Orioles learn they'd finally be playing postseason baseball for the first time since 1997, helped by an 8-7 Rangers win in the nightcap that eliminated the Angels for good.

What a turnaround. What a season.

Enjoy it, Baltimore. It's a sweet moment. And you deserve it.

Still, how wonderfully surreal was that scene at Camden Yards on Sunday after the Orioles 92rd win of this wild season?

Right after Jim Johnson picked up his 50th save by getting the Red Sox's Ryan Lavarnway to bounce out to J.J. Hardy, the Orioles exchanged the usual outfield leap-and-bumps, hugs and high-fives.

Then they stood as a group along the first-base line, anxiously watching the end of the Angels-Rangers game on the video scoreboard to see if the champagne would flow.

Watching along with them was most of the announced crowd of 41,257, on its feet and whooping and cheering with every pitch.

But when Torii Hunter lined a two-run double with two out and two on against Rangers closer Joe Nathan for a 5-4 Angels lead — a lead that would ultimately hold up for the win — a collective groan went up from the crowd.

And with that, the Orioles turned and quietly filed into their dugout as Camden Yards quickly emptied.

“I wouldn't say it was disappointing,” said sizzling right fielder Chris Davis, who went 2-for-3 and clubbed his 31st homer in the fifth for a 6-1 lead. “You want to [clinch] at home in front of the fans. But at the same time, they're going to be happy either way, whether it's on the road or at home.

“We would have liked to win it here. I think it would have been a little more fun. But at the same time, I think they just want to see a postseason berth and a division title.”

So now the Orioles can concentrate on their ultimate goal, the goal manager Buck Showalter has talked about for weeks: winning the AL East title outright.

They're tied with the Yankees at the top of the division standings after New York roared back Sunda from three runs down in the seventh inning to beat Toronto 9-6.

“Our goal now is to try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden [Yards],” manager Buck Showalter said. “Hopefully, it's ‘See you later.'”

It sure helped that the opponent Sunday was the Red Sox, who have all but mailed it in for months and seem intent on blowing up the team that collapsed late last season amid stories of clubhouse beer guzzling and chicken eating during games.

Everyone knows Valentine will be fired about 10 seconds after the season ends. He looked haggard and resigned to his fate in the dugout Sunday — 90 losses, last place in the AL East and the aggressive Boston media will do that to a manager.

And look at the team the Red Sox threw out there Sunday. Aside from Dustin Pedroia, it was as no-name and unimposing a lineup as you could find.

None of that, of course, was the Orioles' concern. They were just happy to beat on the Red Sox for all three games this weekend, taking the series 13-5 and winning nine of their past 12 against them.

An hour after the game, they were packed and getting ready to head to BWI Marshall Airport for the flight to Tampa before the final three games of the season against the Rays.

There would be no playoff-clincher in front of the home fans. But center fielder Adam Jones was prepared to live with that.

So were the rest of the Orioles.

“I don't care,” he said about having to clinch on the road. “If you're in, you're in. Nobody cares. You can clinch on the plane. We're going to party somewhere.”

And the party would be a good one.

After 14 years of losing, you could count on that.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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