The Orioles clinching a division title had been inevitable for weeks. But for fans who'd waited 17 years to reclaim bragging rights in the American League East, witnessing the actual moment at Camden Yards Tuesday night seemed essential.

A sweet moment it was, with orange and white confetti raining from the upper deck as the Orioles formed an exultant mob on the field after beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-2, to seize their first divisional title since 1997.

Advertisement

"This was awesome. The crowd was awesome," said Marc Parisi of Towson, who waved a handmade "Merry Clinchmas" sign, complete with the Oriole Bird in a Santa hat.

Fans remained in the stands more than an hour past the final pitch, watching the Orioles hug and whoop amid sporadic jets of champagne. Centerfielder Adam Jones waved a championship flag and sprayed beer on fans as he celebrated with them along the first-base line.

"It was just a rush tonight," said Delaware resident Jim Osman, who'd bought his ticket in the wee hours of the morning and emerged from the park clutching a fistful of orange streamers. "How couldn't it be, watching them do this?"

From the time the Orioles reduced their magic number to 1 on Monday night, more than 11,000 fans purchased tickets for Tuesday's potential clincher.

"I've been here for enough things that I felt like I needed to see this," said Dave Zebron of Perryville, one of the walk-up buyers.

Clinching division titles used to be a familiar experience in Baltimore. From 1969 to 1983, the Orioles of Earl Weaver, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray won seven of them.

But with their victory over the Blue Jays, the Orioles secured just their second American League East crown since 1983.

Fans joined in on the celebrations in the bars outside the stadium.

Rob Jones, who has been a vendor for 19 seasons, cheered as he watched a television outside Sliders Bar and Grille.

"Yeah, it's a business," he said, "but I'm a true fan. We're total Baltimore people."

Tara Cliff, 44, of Catonsville, said she has loved watching the city rally around the team.

"You stick by your team, no matter what," she said, then added, "I have never heard Camden Yards that loud.

Cliff said her older brother went to the World Series in 1979, and she hopes to get tickets if the Orioles can get there this year.

At Pickles Pub next door, Nick Garcy, of Federal Hill, wore an orange Matt Wieters jersey and high-fived his friends as the final out was recorded.

Advertisement

I'm ecstatic," he said. "Overcoming adversity — the Ravens are all about that. Now the Orioles can be about it, too. It's that team mentality. Tomorrow's hero? Nobody knows who it's going to be."

Nick Markakis had never known the feeling of vanquishing New York, Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto in the same season. Neither had Jones nor Chris Tillman nor a generation of fans who'd experienced only losing baseball until this batch of birds came along to show them a better way.

"It's a feeling we've worked for and hoped for," said Markakis, the longest tenured Oriole at nine years. "I think it means a little more to me, because this is all I know. It's the only place I've ever played. So I know what the fans have gone through."

After three years of winning, it's easy to forget just how long and deep a period of hopelessness the club's fans endured. It wasn't just that the Orioles went 14 seasons without a winning record. They were a pauper in a land of kings.

Their longtime division rivals, the Yankees and Red Sox, combined intelligent planning and unlimited spending power to loom over the sport as twin titans, tossing off 90-win seasons like confetti at a never-ending parade. Then the Rays emerged as the most resourceful team in baseball, making the AL East mountain that much steeper for an Orioles club that existed in perpetual disarray. The futility of it all was enough to make a Baltimore fan weep.

For the last 11 of those losing seasons, the closest the Orioles finished to the divisional lead was 21 games out.

"You would look at the payrolls, with ours at like one-third of the Yankees, and you'd wonder if it would ever change," Zebron said.

That's the backdrop against which the 2014 Orioles put together one of the most commanding divisional conquests in their 60-year history in Baltimore.

Sure, they returned to the playoffs in 2012, but that quest carried a different feel entirely, with the Orioles winning absurdly dramatic games down the stretch as they fought until their penultimate series of the regular season to clinch a wild card berth. It was the most unexpected of treats and yet the Orioles still finished behind the Yankees and fell to their Gotham nemesis in the AL Division Series.

Then the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. So from a Baltimore perspective, it seemed progress might have its limits.

This year, however, the Orioles left no doubts. They've won 10 of 16 games against the Red Sox, 11 of 15 against the Yankees and 12 of 19 against the Rays. That's a .66 winning percentage against the very teams that used to kick them around relentlessly. The Orioles all but wrapped up a playoff spot by the end of August.

It wasn't as easy as it sounds.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this team is the way it hit new heights as so many of its key pieces malfunctioned along the way.

First the Orioles lost previously dependable catcher Matt Wieters to a season-ending elbow injury in early May. Then the team's most brilliant young star, third baseman Manny Machado, saw his season end on a knee injury for the second straight year. He was also suspended five games for a bat-throwing incident.

Just last week, corner infielder Chris Davis, the team's top home run hitter over the last three seasons, informed the Orioles he'd be suspended 25 games for amphetamine use. The Orioles will have to make the American League Championship Series for Davis to have another shot at contributing this season.

The difficulties went beyond losing big-name players. Opening Day closer Tommy Hunter lost his job in May and didn't regain his effectiveness until he returned to a set-up role. After signing a $50 million free-agent deal, Jimenez rarely strung together two good starts and was relegated to the bullpen last month.

"We've overcome a lot," said Barbara Hilton of Catonsville, who insisted her husband, Mark, buy tickets Tuesday afternoon for the potential clincher. He started with two, but then two other family members signed on, along with the family's parish priest.

Danielle Kotofski, eating beside the Hiltons along Eutaw Street, didn't want her 7-year-old son, Mason, to miss the big night. He's already been to every Opening Day of his young life and often wakes his parents to relate the score of that night's game.

"He's just become infatuated with this team," said Kotofski, a Pasadena resident.

Her too. "They look like a bunch of high school kids out there," she said. "Like they really love it."

Advertisement

Manager Buck Showalter and the players were in no mood for reflection before the game. No jumping the gun for them. "Let's get there first, man," Showalter said.

But he did allow that behind the scenes, players were more hyped than usual. He also spoke to Orioles owner Peter Angelos earlier in the day.

"He wouldn't admit it, but I know what this would mean to him," Showalter said of Angelos, who took more criticism than anyone for the team's long run of losing. "I know the passion he has for the Orioles, the city."

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ChildsWalker

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement