BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles will take the field Sunday afternoon for their final regular-season game at Camden Yards in exactly the same position they were in on Opening Day, April 6: Tied for first place in the American League East.
They followed the same blueprint Saturday night that has worked so well over the past six months, using the long ball and a shutdown performance from the bullpen to beat the Boston Red Sox 4-3 before 46,311 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (91-67) share first place with the New York Yankees, who lost 3-2 at Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Both teams have four games remaining. After today's home finale, the Orioles travel to Tampa Bay for a three-game series while New York will be hosting Boston.
The Orioles' magic number for earning at least a wild-card spot is two, meaning they can clinch their first postseason berth in 15 years today with a win and a loss by the Los Angeles Angels.
"It's coming down to the end. It's what we play for," said first baseman Mark Reynolds. "We're playing with house money and we're just going to run with it and see where we can go.
"If we can get it done here, in front of our fans, that'd be awesome. But at the end of the day, we just want to get it done."
Manny Machado, who also made a spectacular play at third base on the night the Orioles honored Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, lined a go-ahead, solo home run to start the seventh inning. He also had an RBI single.
The red-hot Chris Davis had hit a two-run home run in the fourth, his 30th this season. Baltimore has hit 208 home runs, fifth-most in team history. Of those, 124 have come at Camden Yards to set a franchise record.
Meanwhile, four Orioles relievers combined for four shutout innings, with Jim Johnson tossing a perfect ninth for his 49th save, adding to his franchise record.
"Good baseball game for us, a lot of contributors," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles improved to 71-0 when leading after seven innings and 28-9 in one-run games, a testament to a bullpen that has been the backbone of the team.
Tommy Hunter (7-8), Brian Matusz, Darren O'Day and Johnson allowed just one hit in four scoreless relief innings Saturday. Hunter and Matusz failed as starters this season but have been playing key roles out of the 'pen in the middle of a pennant race.
"They've kind of carved out a little niche where they can contribute," Showalter said.
Felix Doubront, who pitched so well against the Orioles in a 2-1 Red Sox win last week in Boston, was tough again but took the loss. Doubront (11-10) went seven innings, allowing seven hits and all four runs, three earned.
The Orioles scored first when Davis was hit by a pitch with one out in the fourth, stole second, advanced on an infield hit and scored on a Machado single up the middle.
It was still 1-0 when Davis came up in the fourth inning with Adam Jones on base after reaching on an error. Davis hit a towering blast into the right-center field stands to make it 3-0.
Orioles starter Steve Johnson, whose father Dave Johnson helped keep another plucky Orioles team in postseason contention until the final weekend of the 1989 season, shut out Boston over the first four innings. He got some help in the fourth from Machado with one on and one out.
Cody Ross hit a shot down the third-base line that Machado backhanded and then turned as he leaped to throw a strike to second baseman Robert Andino, who made a quick relay to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
The rookie third baseman was asked about making such a play in front of Robinson, who won 16 Gold Glove awards.
"I'm just trying to be me, just trying to catch the ball first," he said. "To do it on his night felt great."
That was only one of several defensive gems by the Orioles. Reynolds made a diving play at first base, Endy Chavez made a diving catch in right, and Reynolds made the most spectacular of all when he tumbled over the rolled up tarp while catching a popup in foul territory beyond first base.
Wildness began to get to Johnson in the fifth as he walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a long home run to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the Red Sox pulled within 3-2. Johnson allowed a leadoff single and then a walk to open the sixth and he was done. The tying run scored on a Ross sacrifice fly.
But that didn't matter because Machado led off the seventh by lining a one-ball, one-strike, two-seam fastball over the fence in left-center, his seventh home run since being called up on Aug. 9.
"I don't know if he's 20 years old or not. He plays like he's been here before," Reynolds said. "It's been fun to watch."
Machado said he's just trying to stay relaxed as the Orioles attempt to clinch a spot in the playoffs - which was their goal back in April, long before he was even on the team.
"Nothing's set in stone yet," he said. "We've still got to go out there and win."