With 5-2 victory over Toronto Blue Jays, Orioles on cusp of AL East title
By By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 15, 2014 | 11:47 PM
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones talks about the effort to win the AL East title. "We're just fortunate to put the pieces together, said Jones. "We're also missing some pieces, but the resilience of this team is its strength."
All the postseason math — all the talk of magic numbers and scoreboard watching — is now a thing of the past. Just one win now separates the Orioles and their first American League East division title since 1997.
Opening up their three-game series with the second-place Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night at Camden Yards, the Orioles' path to the postseason was simple: Win two of the games and punch a ticket to the playoffs.
And the Orioles took one humongous step Monday toward winning the division with their 5-2 win over Toronto, giving the club an opportunity to clinch a division title with a win Tuesday. It would be the first time they would celebrate a division crown at home after a win since 1969.
"It's pretty special to come in here tomorrow and have a chance to do that," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of reasons, but tonight I look forward to losing that sleep. It's been a long hard grind to have that opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the chance to see our guys get a chance tomorrow. We've worked hard for this opportunity tomorrow."
Showalter earned his 1,253rd career managerial victory, tying his mentor, Billy Martin, for 36th place on the all-time list. As a young manager in the New York Yankees' farm system, Showalter learned under the wing of Martin and among the lessons imparted on him is that you're only as good as the players around you.
And now Showalter's bunch -- void of cornerstone players Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and Chris Davis -- could be popping champagne bottles Tuesday night inside the home clubhouse at Camden Yards.
With Monday's victory, which came in front of an announced 25,061, the Orioles sealed at least a tie of first place in the division after 162 games. The Yankees were eliminated from the division race with their 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. One more win eliminates the Blue Jays.
"I think all 30 teams, when you break camp, all the men that put that time and effort into it, they want to get to this moment," center fielder Adam Jones said. "We're just fortunate to put the pieces together. We're also missing some pieces, but the resilience of this team is its strength. We continue [to] just strive, no matter how we have to do it. We find a way to do it, somehow, someway."
The win also made Showalter just the third manager in Orioles history to record multiple 90-win seasons, joining Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver.
The Orioles (90-60) now have a .600 winning percentage this season. They are 30-1 when scoring four runs or more since July 19 and 69-14 on the season in those situations. And the club is 30 games above .500 for the first time since finishing 34 games above .500 in 1997.
The Orioles now have reached 90 victories for the second time in three seasons. Before that, the club had only one 90-win season (1997) in 28 years from 1984-2011.
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who hadn't fared well in two previous career starts against the Blue Jays, overcame a rocky first inning to hold Toronto to two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Chen (16-4) has allowed three or fewer runs in six of his last seven starts.
Chen became the first Orioles left-hander to win 16 games since Jimmy Key in 1997. He has won his last five decisions at home, dating back to July 3, and the Orioles are 6-0 in those starts.
"I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. "I was trying to keep the ball down and get out of the inning without allowing too many runs. Fortunately, I can do that with the help of my teammates. They made a lot of great plays out there. I was happy about the result."
Chen quickly trailed after he allowed singles to the first three batters he faced, but after Edwin Encarnacion's first-inning RBI single, he retired 10 of the next 11 batters. He needed a diving catch from Nick Markakis on a quick-falling liner off the bat of John Mayberry Jr. to get out of the first inning having allowed just one run.
"Markakis made, I think, the play of the game," Jones said. "If that drops, you don't know how many runs could score on that play. I think he made the play of the game to really give us a boost early."
The Orioles quickly rebounded in the bottom of the first. Markakis opened the inning with a single and Alejandro De Aza doubled. Then, Markakis scored on Jones' swinging bunt down the third base line, and De Aza scored on a double-play ball by Nelson Cruz.
Cruz put the Orioles up, 3-1, on a two-out single in the third inning, scoring Jones.
Second baseman Ryan Flaherty provided insurance in the fourth inning with a two-run home run onto the flag court after Kelly Johnson drew a leadoff walk. Flaherty's seventh homer of the season -- all coming at Camden Yards -- was his first since Aug. 30.
Former Orioles utility player Danny Valencia hit a two-out RBI single off Chen in the fifth, scoring Jose Reyes from second base. Reyes immediately got up and complained to home plate umpire Ted Barrett that catcher Caleb Joseph stepped on his hand as he made a head-first slide into home.
Tensions boiled over the next inning when Joseph dodged a 92-mph fastball at his head from Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman. Barrett warned Stroman and both dugouts after the pitch.
"There's life outside of baseball, you know?" Joseph said. "I have a wife and a baby on the way. Those are the type of things that go through your head when that kind of stuff happens. I am glad it didn't hit me. So, yeah, there's a code. Every baseball player knows there's a code. I'm not the judge here to judge intent or any of that stuff. I'm just glad it didn't hit me."
After Stroman, who allowed five runs and nine hits in six innings, struck out Joseph to end the inning, he appeared to look back at the Orioles dugout as he walked off the field. A few Orioles players were about to jump over the dugout railing and onto the field. While there was no further escalation, Showalter called the action "borderline professionally embarrassing."
"You let your emotions take over and all of a sudden someone's lying at home plate in a pool of blood with a blow to the head," Showalter said. "How really manly do you feel? Was it really worth it? If you don't have the command to throw the ball where you're supposed to deliver a message, then you shouldn't be throwing at all there. It really pushed the hot button with all of us because it certainly wasn't called for. That was obvious."
Stroman said after the game that the pitch slipped from his hands. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said "no comment" when asked about the pitch to Joseph.
Orioles closer Zach Britton brought the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth after a single by Reyes and a walk to Jose Bautista.
Encarnacion hit a grounder to shortstop to J.J. Hardy, who threw to second base for the force out, but the play was challenged when second baseman Jonathan Schoop lost possession of the ball on the transfer.
After Toronto's challenge, the call was upheld, and Valencia grounded out to third base for the final out, giving Britton his 35th save of the season.