With 8-2 win Tuesday, Orioles clinch first American League East title since 1997

Club beats Blue Jays to earn second playoff berth in last three seasons

September 17, 2014|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

After the Orioles drained bottles of champagne inside the home clubhouse of Camden Yards, leaving behind not a dry spot in a room littered with corks and empty beer bottles, they ran toward the dugout for a postgame party that Baltimore had long awaited.

They celebrated their first American League East division title in 17 years Tuesday night after their 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays with their hometown fans at Camden Yards.

Their coronation as newly recrowned kings of the AL East came in front of a sea of orange -- an announced 34,297 -- entirely on its feet, standing as right-hander Tommy Hunter closed out the game with a grounder to first base. On cue, orange fireworks shot into the sky from the scoreboard and streamers were shot into the seating bowl.

“It was really loud,” Hunter said. “It was fun. You got the shakes a little bit from warming up. It was cool. It was a great environment. That’s the environment it should be in Baltimore. These guys love baseball, these fans, this city. We’re bringing it back.”

While players sprayed bottles of beer on each other and into a frenzied crowd above the Orioles dugout, manager Buck Showalter stood on the first step of the dugout and watched quietly wearing a AL East division champions cap and a proud smirk.

"You get older, you want to get a good angle and a good seat and see good people get a return for what they put into it and what they're trying to achieve,” Showalter said. “And this is a huge step, to get a chance now. We've got to figure out a way to win 11 games."

Even though this was the Orioles' ninth division title in franchise history, it was a first for the city of Baltimore. In this 60th anniversary season of Orioles baseball, it marked the first time in club history that they celebrated a division title at home while needing a win to clinch. Back in 1969, the Orioles won the AL East on a day in which they won, but had already sealed the division before their game ended.

“It’s an awesome experience,” said right fielder Nick Markakis, the longest tenured Oriole. “We worked hard all season long to get to where we are now, and we got step one out of the way. Now we’ve got a couple more steps to go ... Just taking it all in and the experience itself is something I’ll never forget.

Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated by giving Markakis a celebratory pie to the face. Jones also later pied a fan. Hunter pied right-hander Darren O’Day. While celebrating with their fans in the area in front of the home dugout, they stepped around empty Budweiser bottles and pie remnants.

“We reached the pinnacle,” Jones said. “It’s a big moment in our history, big moment within this clubhouse. These guys worked their tails off, every last one of them, for the same goal … to win."

And Jones understood how long a wait this has been for Orioles fans.

“I wasn’t able to drink at that time [in 1997], so I couldn’t taste the bubbly, but I can taste it now and it tastes really good. It’s a milestone. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to celebrate tonight … the whole city of Baltimore. … It has been a long time coming for the city of Baltimore.”

The Orioles (91-60) are heading to the playoffs for the second time in three years. For a team that endured 14 straight losing seasons before Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette brought winning baseball back to Baltimore, they became the fourth different AL East team to win the division in the last five seasons.

Over the course of the season, the Orioles lost three keystone players -- Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis -- but other role players filled their absences holes.

Once one of those players -- first baseman Steve Pearce -- blasted a three-run homer off Toronto right-hander Drew Hutchison to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead in the first inning, anticipation built, ending with a dogpile behind second base following the final out of the game.

Pearce, who was reluctantly designated for assignment by the team in April because of a roster crunch, returned to the club days later after an injury to Davis and has had the best season of his career in his first real opportunity to play every day.

Pearce gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead with his 18th homer of the season. He took a 0-1 fastball just over the center-field fence with two outs in the bottom of the first.

“This is where I wanted to play,” Pearce said. “My decision was a no-brainer. I love everybody here, from the players to the front office, this is where I wanted to play. To have this feeling right now, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

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