Orioles looking to build on recent success at Rogers Centre in tonight's wild card game

Can the Orioles overcome the Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre crowd to advance to the AL division series?

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has heard it all from the fans at Rogers Centre over the years. Opposing players get heckled everywhere, but the fans in Toronto have a reputation for being relentless, especially the ones hovering over Jones in center field.  

The Blue Jays had the highest attendance in the American League this season – they averaged 41,800 fans a game at home in 2016 – creating a home-field advantage that the Orioles will have to overcome in Tuesday’s American League wild card game.

“Pretty much [expect] the same thing [as usual], a lot of foul mouths, choice words,” Jones said. “ … But it’s all part of the game and the mystique. I’ve been here when there’s 15,000 on a Friday night and I’ve been here where there’s 50,000 on a Tuesday. There’s gonna be a 50,000 on a Tuesday on tomorrow, probably a little bit more.”

The Orioles haven’t played well at the Rogers Centre in recent years. Dating back to 2000, they were just 26-41 at the Rogers Centre – even though they won five of six road series here in 2013 and ’14.

Most recently, the Orioles lost five of seven in Toronto before arriving here last week, when the Orioles took 2-of-3 in Toronto in a series that was critical in keeping their playoff hopes alive.

“This is a completely different game,” third baseman Manny Machado said. “We don’t know how it’s going to be out there. We don’t know if we’re going to be hot. We don’t know what the outcome’s going to be. We can only control what we can control, which is to go out there and leave it on the field. It’s one game. We’ve played 162 games. We grinded them out. And we just have to grind one more out."

The Orioles and Blue Jays ended the season with identical 89-73 records, but Toronto's 10-9 edge in head-to-head matchups gave it home-field in the wild card game.

Every team would want to play at home, especially in this kind of game," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "I know Baltimore is very good at home, and you know, you never like going down there. That park, they hit balls out anywhere, but that's a great hitting park down there.

" ... It's really changed here," Gibbons added. "Two months back in July of last year, you know, when the team was playing good, people started showing up, rowdy crowd. So it's, you know, our guys love it. We love it. Who knows whether that gives you an advantage or not. I don't know. But you'd rather have it this way than any other way."

The Orioles entered the wild card game having won seven of nine overall and won road series in Detroit, Boston, Toronto and New York to help seal their postseason fate.

But heading into Tuesday’s game, the Orioles aren’t counting on their late-season road momentum to continue at Rogers Centre.

“It’s always going to be execution,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “It’s always going to be your starting pitcher, especially in the postseason. Keeping the momentum going and getting off the field when you’re on defense and trying to hit for as long as possible.

"With the postseason, once you get there, it really doesn’t matter. Past records, past success, past failures, it’s all out the window, because once you get the momentum and you can keep it, anybody can win anywhere.”

Rogers Centre can be intimidating when it’s full, which is will be on Tuesday night. A concrete donut five decks high, it can feel like fans are right on top of the field, players have said.

“It can get loud,” Wieters said. “There’s a lot of tin in the building and it can ring around. But we just have to embrace it and take that us versus 50,000 [mentality] and run with it.”

The Orioles will have to overcome that to advance to the American League Division Series.

“These guys play and you want the emotion and the fans to care and to be here, much like ours,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the Blue Jays. “I would put [our fans] against anybody. That's one of the advantages of playing at home, it can work both ways. Our guys -- playing in our division -- we play at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, and I think they're leading the American League in attendance.

"They're always very loud and into the game," Showalter said. "And it will be a little different decibel [level]. But there is a different level, and you hope it is. That's why we do all the things we do to be on that stage and to get a chance to perform. You take a little special pride in being able to perform in that environment. They've done it well at our park when we had that same very emotional crowd. We've got to work very hard [here] to have another one of those games at home.”

Eencina@baltsun.com
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