The Baltimore Orioles are the American League East Champions for the first time in 17 years after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday night, and Carroll County fans have playoff fever.
Al Sadowski, of Hampstead, said he's been a fan for decades and is impressed the O's have done so well this year.
"After all these years, it's so exciting waiting for them to clinch it," Sadowski said earlier this week. "Hopefully, they'll make it to the World Series."
His sentiments were echoed by other Orioles fans, even those who have no recollection of the last time the Birds won a pennant.
Durant, 17, said he had no doubt the Orioles would win the AL East. The McDaniel College student made a bet with fellow student Emma Webster — who's a Boston Red Sox fan — early in the season that if the Orioles won the division, Webster has to wear an Orioles shirt for 24 hours.
On Tuesday, Durant said he not only believed the Orioles will win the division, but also that they would make it to the World Series, ending the dry spell that's lasted since 1983.
From 1997 through 2011, the Orioles hadn't come close to making the playoffs. The 14-year skid ended with a second-place finish in their division and the defeat of the Texas Rangers in the wild-card elimination game in 2012. After defeating the Rangers, they lost to the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series. Last year, they finished tied for fourth pace in the AL East with 85 wins.
The recent success still pales in comparison to winning the division outright with more than 10 games to play, said Jeff Hinton, co-owner of HomeGamers in the TownMall of Westminster. The Sykesville resident was at the game on Monday night and was attending Tuesday's game as well, he said.
"The atmosphere at [Monday night's] game was electric, that's the best way to describe it," he said hours before Tuesday's first pitch. "I expect the crowd to be even bigger and louder [Tuesday]. The team and the fans know there's something in the air."
Hinton said he has three sons, all born too late to remember the last time the Orioles had this kind of success. Until two years ago, they couldn't comprehend that the Orioles used to be a dynasty. When they made it to the playoffs in 2012 and Hinton was able to take them to a game the city had not enjoyed for close to 20 years, they finally understood, he said.
"At one point during a game against the Yankees, my oldest son turned to me and said, 'I get it,'" Hinton said. "I've always wanted my sons to root for the same team as me and when [my son] said that, it felt great."
Twenty-four-year-old Brett Hartle, a manager at Shenk & Tittle in the mall, said he's been a fan of the Orioles his whole life.
He said he's gone to plenty of games this year and the most noticeable difference is the number of fans in attendance.
"Now that [the Orioles] are good, so many people are jumping on the bandwagon, and a couple years ago you couldn't find any," Hartle said.
With the playoffs a certainty after the division championship, two questions remain for many fans: Can the Orioles succeed in the playoffs relying on the long ball, and how much will the losses of Manny Machado to injury and Chris Davis to suspension hurt the team's chance?
The Orioles entered Tuesday's game leading the major leagues in home runs with 194. Reliance on home runs has traditionally been a formula for failure in the playoffs because teams typically use their best pitchers. The Orioles ran into this problem in 2012, scoring only 10 runs in five games, after finishing second in the majors in homers that year.
Hinton said he has no fear of the potential for the Orioles bats to slumber.
"I think the Orioles realize to win, they can't always hit the long ball," Hinton said. On Monday, outfielder "Alejandro De Aza tried to bunt to get on base. While he wasn't successful, it shows they are trying to manufacture runs in different ways."
As for the injuries and suspensions the team is dealing with, Hinton said the team has made some great acquisitions to accommodate these missing players. With the addition of Kelly Johnson and De Aza, any holes in the lineup have been filled nicely, he said.
"The Orioles are firing on all cylinders," Hinton said. "They are playing well as a team, and the players they've added have really contributed."
Hartle said missing Davis in the lineup could hurt the team defensively. Since Machado went on the disabled list, Davis has at times filled in at third base and performed well, he said. However, as long as Buck Showalter keeps being the skipper he is, he said he won't be worried.
Sadowski agreed with Hartle and said Orioles fans have to trust Showalter to get the job done.
"Let Buck make the decisions and the calls," he said. He's gotten us this far."
Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fans interested in Orioles playoff tickets have two choices to purchase them through the team.
Placing a deposit on a 2015 season-ticket plan by 11:59 p.m. Sept. 21 guarantees the opportunity to purchase playoff tickets this year before the general public. Otherwise, fans must register through the Orioles website for a chance to buy tickets for 2014 postseason games played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Registering does not guarantee an opportunity to buy playoff tickets.