Players celebrate in their clubhouse at Yankee Stadium after winning 5-2 to clinch a wild-card playoff berth. (Video by Eduardo A. Encina)
Matt Wieters said he spent too much time last year wondering what the offseason would hold, so this year, with his Orioles career again possibly coming to an the end, the club's postseason chase became a valuable distraction.
And now, after a pair of two-run homers in back-to-back at-bats provided the offense in the Orioles' playoff-clinching 5-2 win Sunday over the New York Yankees, the pending free agent knows he will have at least one more game in orange and black.
"I didn't know going out of last year what the future was going to hold for me this year," Wieters said. "I can't imagine anything better than this right here, except for doing it after a World Series with these guys."
Wieters, whose tenure with the club trails only Adam Jones' among active players, has been a key piece in the Orioles' run to the postseason. He is hitting .355 (11-for-31) with three homers and six RBIs over his past eight games.
Sunday's 5-2 win over the Yankees capped a tense week where the Orioles faced playoff elimination. But they won two of three games each in Toronto and New York after struggling all season on the road -- they were just 35-40 away from Camden Yards heading into the final two series.
"Matt has had that competitive edge for about 10 days," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Not that he [usually] doesn't have it, it's just been more. Keep in mind, he just caught a night game [followed by a] day game, and when I asked him how he was feeling, it was like, 'Really? I'm playing.' This guy overcame surgery. We had this conversation last year. And I think when you get in times like this, you realize how much Matt means to this club and to this organization."
Wieters has spent his entire eight-year career with the Orioles. In November, Wieters accepted a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer to remain in Baltimore rather than test the free-agent market.
Wieters said that at this time last year, he was thinking about the future, wondering whether he was playing his final days in an Orioles uniform.
"Winning is always the biggest thing to focus on, so that makes it easier," Wieters said. "In baseball players' minds, once you stop thinking about that one goal in general that everybody in here has as a team, it can be a dangerous place to get to. … It was harder last year because that last week or two, we weren't in the playoffs, and I was thinking about it nonstop the last couple of weeks."
It seems unlikely the Orioles will make Wieters another qualifying offer — the value of which will jump this offseason to $16.7 million — but Wieters still figures to be one of the top catchers available in a dry free-agent market. He finished the regular season hitting .243/.302/.409 in 124 games, with 17 15 homers and 66 RBIs.
Around the horn: Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was the only Orioles player to start all 162 regular-season games. Last season, third baseman Manny Machado started in all 162 games. … Machado ended the regular season having reached safely in 19 of his past 20 games, batting .316 (25-for-79) with 11 runs, five doubles, five homers, nine RBIs and seven walks over that stretch. … The Orioles finished 40-36 record against the American League East and ended the regular season 39-42 on the road.