The Orioles' regular-season home finale Sunday afternoon ended with a whimper, a 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
But they'll be back.
For just the second time in Camden Yards' 23-season history, the Orioles ended their home schedule knowing for sure that they would return for a playoff game. Only in 1997 — the other time they were American League East division champions while playing at Camden Yards — did they know that the last regularly scheduled game in Baltimore wasn't their final one for the year.
The Orioles (93-62) now depart on a seven-game road trip that could be more of the same: Lineups without every regular and a motivation limited to trying to secure home-field for at least one series and perhaps throughout the postseason. They'll most likely be back to play Oct. 2 versus the AL Central champion.
"It's allowed us to do a lot of things we normally wouldn't be able to do," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who again rested some key starters Sunday. "[Looking at] the schedule a month ago, to think that we don't have to win a game in New York or Toronto. But we're certainly going to approach it that way, because there are still some things out there for us."
With Sunday's loss by the Detroit Tigers, the AL Central leaders, the Orioles now can clinch the second seed in the AL with one win or one loss by the Tigers throughout the remainder of the season. That would guarantee that the Orioles would host the first two games of the AL Division Series on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3.
The Orioles also are still in contention for the No. 1 seed, but the Los Angeles Angels are in control of that. Because the Angels and the Orioles almost certainly will be the top two seeds, the Orioles likely will play in the afternoon Thursday and Friday so that the West Coast Angels can have the evening games. Times officially have not been set for the ALDS.
On Sunday, the Orioles couldn't get much offense going against the last-place Red Sox (69-88) in front of an announced 38,329 — pushing the season attendance at Camden Yards to 2.46 million, the highest since 2005.
The loss dropped the Orioles to 50-31 at home this season, their best mark since they had the same record at Memorial Stadium in their 1983 World Series championship year. It's particularly impressive considering the Orioles were 18-19 at home on June 29 after losing three of four games to the Tampa Bay Rays. They went 32-12 (.727 winning percentage) at home after that.
"There's always something you get a little better at, and you just try to let the season play out," Showalter said. "If I had a choice coming in that I could have a bird in hand, it would be playing well on the road and then take your chances at home. It's been a good club, pretty consistent home and away. [But] not early on. [Home] was a little bit of a challenge for us."
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez, who is battling for a spot in the postseason rotation, allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings Sunday — just the second time in his last 12 starts that he failed to last at least six innings. Pitching on seven days' rest, Gonzalez snapped his season high of six consecutive quality starts.
"I thought it was better than last outing," said Gonzalez, who hadn't pitched since giving up three runs in six innings to the New York Yankees on Sept. 13. "I felt good. A couple more days of rest. Everything looked good since the first inning, just a couple of bad pitches, mistakes, and they were able to capitalize on that."
Gonzalez (9-9) allowed eight hits, including two solo homers. Boston rookie Mookie Betts hit Gonzalez's fourth pitch of the afternoon, a 90-mph fastball, over the left-field wall for his fifth major league homer and first to lead off a game.
Gonzalez allowed an RBI, seeing-eye single to Yoenis Cespedes in the fifth and then was removed with two outs in the sixth after veteran catcher David Ross homered to deep center field. Gonzalez, who leads the team in homers allowed with 25, hadn't served up multiple homers in a game since Aug. 2.
"I'm a flyball pitcher. That's gonna happen," Gonzalez said. "I wasn't truly happy about what happened [Sunday], but we've just got to keep staying positive and work ahead and things are gonna be all right."
The Orioles' makeshift starting lineup — it was without Steve Pearce (right wrist), Nick Markakis (right shoulder) and Adam Jones, who was given a day to rest but was used as a pinch-hitter in the eighth — was stifled for five innings by Boston right-hander Joe Kelly (3-2 with Boston). They scored twice in the sixth to draw within one run.
Alejandro De Aza led off with a walk and scored on David Lough's double to left field. Lough scored on a groundout by Nelson Cruz, the Orioles slugger's team-leading 106th RBI of the season.
Kelly, whom the Red Sox acquired in a July trade that sent starter John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals, lasted seven innings, giving up just three hits and three walks while striking out five batters.
"Kelly, I was really impressed with him over there [in Boston] and even more so here," Showalter said. "He's got really good stuff. That's going to be a good trade for them."
The Orioles' focus for the next seven days — until next Sunday's regular-season finale in Toronto — is to get healthy and lined up for the postseason. And then they'll get two playoff games at home in front of an expected sellout crowd.
"[Seven] games seems like an eternity sometimes," Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. "Just trying to get through the next [seven] games and have everybody healthy and crisp. And then, I think, once there's a few days off, and then we come back here, it will start to sink in."