It has been a long and interesting ride to the Orioles' first playoff berth since 1997, so it probably shouldn't surprise anybody that they spent a long and very interesting day nailing down their place in this year's postseason.
They took care of the easy part early Sunday afternoon, when they completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox with a 6-3 victory before a raucous crowd in the final scheduled regular-season game at Oriole Park.
Then it got strange. The Texas Rangers had the Los Angeles Angels down by three runs in the game that might have locked up at least a wild-card berth before the Orioles headed off to Tampa for a still-meaningful three-game series against the Rays, but it wasn't going to be that easy. The Angels rallied and eventually cracked Rangers closer Joe Nathan in the ninth to secure a 5-4 victory to keep the Orioles on hold.
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So, they headed off for Tampa and should have been there before the end of the second game of the rain-makeup doubleheader between the Rangers and Angels, but their charter plane had to make an emergency landing when some smoke was detected inside the cabin. The Orioles eventually were able to proceed to their destination, getting on the plane with the Rangers again holding a sizeable lead over the Angels.
The AL West leaders had bounced back after the Angels scored four times in the first inning to take a four-run lead of their own into the late innings, but Howie Kendrick launched a three-run homer in the seventh to put everybody back in the same situation they were in several hours earlier at the Ballpark In Arlington.
Nathan, who blew a save for only the third time this season in the first game, came on to face Albert Pujols, red-hot Torii Hunter and young slugger Mark Trumbo in the ninth inning. He gave up a walk to Hunter and the game would eventually come down to Kendry Morales, who popped up on the infield to end the game and guarantee a playoff berth to the Rangers, the Orioles and the Yankees.
What a strange day.
What a great ending.
Now, when the Orioles open the series at Tropicana Field, they'll be performing with a net. They are, at least, guaranteed a place in Friday's wild-card game, though it'll be awhile before they know if they will need to play in it or who they will play.
The Angels comeback in the first game cost them a chance to celebrate in front of their fans at Oriole Park, and left them to toast each other on the unexpected second leg of the team charter. They may throw a playoff party after their next victory, or simply wait and see if they can earn an even more meaningful celebration by outsprinting the Yankees for the AL East title.
There were players in the clubhouse after the game who weren't all that excited about the prospect of celebrating a non-specific wild-card berth. Shortstop J.J. Hardy said he would prefer to keep that carrot at the end of the stick until the division race is decided. But the organization was hoping that there would be a celebratory scrum on the field at Camden Yards, since the fans have waited so long to see one.
The team was right about that, but it just didn't work out that way.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.Orioles Insider | Live scores | Photos | Baseball app