ORI­OLES@BLUE JAYS

Ori­oles head to Toronto on Tues­day for one game in their bid to ad­vance to next round

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jon Me­oli and Car­rie Wells

An Ori­oles team picked by many to fin­ish last in the Amer­i­can League East this sea­son is go­ing back to the play­offs for the third time in five years.

With their 5-2 win Sun­day in New York over the Yan­kees, the Ori­oles clinched a wild-card berth and will travel to Toronto to face the Blue Jays on Tues­day in a one-game play­off. The win­ner ad­vances to the Amer­i­can League Divi­sion Se­ries to play the Texas Rangers.

Sun­day’s win capped a tense week in which the Ori­oles faced play­off elim­i­na­tion. But they won two of three games each in Toronto and New York af­ter strug­gling all sea­son on the road — they were just 35-40 away from Cam­den Yards head­ing into the fi­nal two se­ries. While fans were frus­trated with the lack of con­sis­tency and clutch hit­ting in the sec­ond half, the Ori­oles won seven of their last nine games AL wild card Tues­day, 8 p.m. TV: TBS Ra­dio: 105.7 FM COM­PLETE COV­ER­AGE IN SPORTS to reach the post­sea­son.

Laura St­inch­comb, 33, of Edge­wa­ter, was watch­ing the game at Slid­ers Bar and Grill near Cam­den Yards and said the win felt sweeter be­cause the team beat the Yan­kees to get in. She said she thought the Ori­oles could make it to the World Se­ries.

“I hope they take it to the next round,”

she said. “I think if they keep their act to­gether that they have the po­ten­tial to go all the way.”

She added: “The last time they made the World Se­ries was the year I was born. So I’m hop­ing for it.”

That year was 1983, when the Ori­oles beat the Philadel­phia Phillies in five games for their third world cham­pi­onship. In the time since, though Ori­oles fans had to en­dure some near-play­off misses and a stretch of 14 straight los­ing sea­sons from 1998 through 2011 be­fore the team turned it around. It’s fit­ting that the Ori­oles would reach the play­offs this sea­son be­cause the fran­chise has been cel­e­brat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of its first World Se­ries cham­pi­onship, over the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in 1966.

Dur­ing the first half of the sea­son, it didn’t look as if the Ori­oles would need to play un­til the fi­nal week­end of the sea­son to clinch a play­off berth, and a wild-card game at that. The Ori­oles were among the best teams in base­ball through the All-Star break, stretch­ing their divi­sion lead to 51⁄ games dur­ing a daz­zling June.

But the team strug­gled in the sec­ond half and was passed by the Bos­ton Red Sox, who won the divi­sion, and the Blue Jays to make for a mean­ing­ful Septem­ber. The anx­i­ety was only re­lieved in the fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son game Sun­day. Two home runs by catcher Matt Wi­eters and a strong pitch­ing per­for­mance by Kevin Gaus­man pow­ered the Ori­oles past the Yan­kees.

Man­ager Buck Showal­ter said he didn’t feel vin­di­cated by mak­ing the play­offs when ex­perts pre­dicted the Ori­oles would fin­ish at the bot­tom of the divi­sion.

“Life is too short to have those emo­tions. Thank good­ness peo­ple make pre­dic­tions and think things like that,” Showal­ter said. “We’ve used them very well. It’s kind of who we are, and the way we have to do it. There’s a real iden­tity not only with our team, but with the city and ev­ery­thing.

“There’s just so much you can do with emo­tion. You have to have some skills and some­times that gets over­looked with our guys. Th­ese are some tal­ented guys, and they’re tal­ented in their abil­ity to be con­sis­tent.”

The Ori­oles also ap­peared in the first Amer­i­can League wild-card game in 2012, de­feat­ing the Texas Rangers to move on that year. They’re the first AL team to ap­pear in the wild-card game twice. The Ori­oles man­ager Buck Showal­ter is doused by Manny Machado af­ter the Ori­oles clinched a wild-card spot Sun­day. core of the 2012 team was largely the same as this year’s, in­clud­ing cen­ter fielder Adam Jones, short­stop J.J. Hardy, first base­man Chris Davis, then-rookie third base­man Manny Machado and Wi­eters.

This year’s Ori­oles lived up to the rep­u­ta­tion they have built un­der Showal­ter, crush­ing home runs and shut­ting down op­po­nents late in games with strong re­lief pitch­ing.

Mark Trumbo led the ma­jors with 47 home runs and com­bined with Davis (38) and Machado (37) to give the Ori­oles three play­ers with 30 or more home runs for the first time in fran­chise his­tory.

As a team, the Ori­oles hit 251 home runs, just shy of the fran­chise record but good for most in the ma­jors. More of their runs came on home runs than not, and it was enough to push them to the play­offs.

But it made for some tense mo­ments along the way. Be­cause of Zach Brit­ton and the team’s re­li­able re­lief corps, many of those tight games ended up go­ing in their di­rec­tion. Brit­ton has had one of the best years of any reliever in base­ball his­tory, con­vert­ing all 47 of his save op­por­tu­ni­ties and post­ing a 0.54 ERA.

Brit­ton said he knows the play­off road will be tougher than it was 2014, when the Ori­oles won the divi­sion and reached the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

“But at the same time, if you look at the last cou­ple teams that have been the wild card, some­times it ben­e­fits you to get out there and play right away in the post­sea­son,” he said. “We are a team that gets up with the mo­men­tum, and so if we can carry this into the wild-card game I think we’ll be in a good spot.

KATHY KMONICEK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Manny Machado, left, Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy cel­e­brate in the club­house Sun­day af­ter the Ori­oles clinched a wild-card spot

KATHY KMONICEK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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