ARLINGTON, Texas - Five days ago, the Baltimore Orioles never thought they'd be here. Neither did the Texas Rangers.
On Sunday, the Orioles left Baltimore convinced they would either beat out the New York Yankees for the AL East title or at worst host a Wild Card game.
There was a third option, too. If the Yankees and Orioles tied for the East, there would be a Thursday tiebreaker.
Instead, the Rangers surprisingly lost three straight games to the Oakland Athletics, giving the no-name A's the AL West crown, and sending the two-time AL champions to the elimination game.
The Orioles lost two of three at Tampa Bay and stopped hitting, giving New York the AL East.
For manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles' first postseason game since 1997 is a reward for all the hard work.
"We grinded like heck for a chance to roll the dice to have a chance to win in October," Showalter said.
The season has been a grind for the Orioles, in a good way. There are the 29 one-run wins, the 16 straight extra-inning triumphs, and a cast of characters with fascinating back stories.
Among the dozens of moves first-year executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette pulled off was a late August trade for Joe Saunders, a 31-year-old left-hander from Northern Virginia, who grew up an Orioles fan.
Saunders was 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts, and he's been given the Friday night start despite an 0-6 record with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark.
"It's a huge opportunity. It's been a blessing since I got traded over here," Saunders said. "I do have some playoff experience, and I'm going to go out and do my thing."
When Duquette acquired Saunders, he mentioned that his postseason background would be a help.
The Orioles improved their record by 24 wins, going from a 69-93 record in 2011 to 93-69.
The Orioles badly wanted a home playoff game. They can still get it by beating Texas. That will be a formidable task. During the season, the Rangers won five of seven and outscored the Orioles 56-24.
"I read into it that they're real good. They are," Showalter said.
The Orioles allowed Josh Hamilton to hit four home runs in May and Adrian Beltre three in August.
"When we get beat, we don't mess around," Showalter said.
Baltimore doesn't have to set its roster for the game until 10 a.m. on Friday. Thirty-one players are with them, and since rosters can be changed for each playoff round, it's likely that some starting pitchers won't be on the lineup card for the 8:37 p.m. start.
Despite scoring just two runs on five hits in their last two games, the Orioles managed to outscore their opponents by a measly seven runs. For much of the season, despite a record with many more wins than losses, they were outscored by their opponents.
Showalter once managed the Rangers, and five of the Orioles played for Texas at some point last season. It's Showalter's first time back in the postseason since 1999 when he managed the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Though Showalter has purchased a home in Baltimore County, he spends much of the off-season in Dallas He hungers for the first two AL division series games, which would be played against the Yankees at Oriole Park on Sunday and Monday. All they need is a Friday night win.
"We're trying everything possible to get back to Baltimore," Showalter said.