Orioles edge Blue Jays, 1-0, in final game of regular season, prepare to face Tigers

Jonathan Schoop's solo home run leads club to its 96th win before the playoffs begin Thursday

September 28, 2014|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

TORONTO -- Moments after their 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, the Orioles finally found out who they would face in the American League Division Series.

It had been a 12-day wait since the Orioles clinched the AL East. But inside the visiting clubhouse of the Rogers Centre, as the Orioles packed their bag for the trip home to Baltimore — it wasn’t baseball, but NFL football on the televisions.

The Orioles believe they are ready for the Detroit Tigers, who will travel to Camden Yards to open the ALDS on Thursday. While the Tigers needed a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central, the Orioles have been preparing for all their possible opponents in the best-of-five postseason series since winning the division title Sept. 16.

In recent days, they zeroed in on the Tigers, even sending injured catcher Matt Wieters to Detroit to help scout the final two games of the regular season.

“We know what kind of team they've got,” said right fielder Nick Markakis of the Tigers. “They've got a strong starting staff, and they've got some guys who can swing the bat. We've just got to execute and do our thing. … It doesn't really matter. To get to the top, you've got to go through the best.”

The Orioles and the Tigers will meet in the postseason for the first time ever. For the Orioles — who finished the season with a 96-66 record, going 30 games over .500 for the first time since their last division winner in 1997 (98-64) — bigger goals lay ahead.

“In the postseason, it doesn't really matter who you face,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “You're bound to face somebody that's really, really good. Whoever our opponent is, we're going to have to play our game. … We know the Tigers, we know the Royals, we know the A's, we know Anaheim. It's part of it, man. Somebody's going to have to face them.”

But first the Orioles had to make good use of the final game of the regular season in Toronto. Snapping their three-game losing skid with a win going into the postseason was important, as was giving the team’s usual starting lineup one final game together before the playoffs. Showalter also wanted to give his key relief pitchers work before a three-day layoff.

“That’s probably the most challenging game I’ve had to manage all year because we had so many things we had to satisfy,” Showalter said. “We have a lot of confidence, just like the team we’re going to play has confidence. This is the best of the best. … You have a chance to roll the dice. We’ve been talking [about that] the whole year, and now our full attention can turn to that.”

The Orioles earned their second 1-0 win of the season and their 13th shutout victory in front of an announced 45,901. They had just six hits and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, but all they needed was second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s solo home run in the fifth inning — his 16th of the year — to claim victory.

Schoop’s homer was the Orioles’ 211th of the season, most in the major leagues, as they recorded three straight 200-homer seasons for the first time in club history.

“To go to the postseason feels really good, especially to get the momentum going,” Schoop said. “Good defense, good pitching, everything has to work together in the postseason for you to get a win.”

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (10-9) won his 10th game of the season — giving the Orioles four starters with double-digit wins — with five shutout innings. The Orioles’ starting rotation posted a combined 3.61 ERA this season.

“Everybody said our starting staff couldn't sustain throughout a season, they said our starters basically wouldn't last the whole season,” Jones said. “The people that said that, I'm pretty sure they can [shove it].”

Even though the Orioles ended the season with the second-best record in the AL and have home-field advantage in the ALDS against Detroit, they defied the odds by winning a division often seen as baseball’s best.

Showalter often scoffed at the notion that the AL East was down because the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox struggled, always pointing out that the division still had the best cumulative record in baseball. Showalter’s team finished 47-29 against AL East opponents.

“If you told me at the start of the year that we’d be going to New York and Toronto [on the final road trip] and not have to win a game to make the playoffs, I could have made some money,” Showalter said. “I could have made a lot of money. It’s a very proud division, and I’ve gotten a lot of well wishes from everyone in our division, and we’ll try to carry that on.”

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