When the Oakland Athletics lost in Seattle early Saturday evening, the night's contest between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards technically became meaningless shortly after the first pitch.
The Orioles were eliminated from postseason consideration earlier in the week and, courtesy of the Athletics' loss, the Red Sox officially had wrapped up the American League's best record – consequently earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
But it was still the last Saturday night at the Yards, the division rival Red Sox were in town and an announced crowd of 36,556 was plenty into the penultimate baseball game of the season.
So when Steve Pearce smacked a two-run double into the left field corner in the eighth inning to give the Orioles a 6-5, comeback victory, the fans seemingly didn't care that this one was inconsequential.
"The fans never surprise me. They're always into it emotionally when it comes to the Baltimore Orioles, and that's a given we never take for granted,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “You've got to continue to do a good job giving them something they can trust. And part of that is playing with the effort our guys played with tonight. We are playing for something. We could talk for hours about what it is.”
Each of the last two seasons the Orioles and Red Sox have met in the final homestand at Camden Yards with one club's playoff life on the line.
In 2012, the Orioles swept the Red Sox in their final home series to ultimately guarantee a playoff berth. In 2011, the Orioles made a stunning comeback in the season finale – the Curse of the (Robert) Andino – that helped push Boston out of the Wild Card race.
On Saturday night, it was one team playing out the string against another one tweaking its way to the postseason. But the Orioles, who captured the season series by winning 10 of 18 against the Red Sox heading into Sunday's finale, weren't looking at it that way.
“You got to take advantage of every opportunity,” said Pearce, who had three RBIs on two doubles, including the game-winner in the eighth against Junichi Tazawa (5-4). “You always want to end on a good note. So for bubble guys, or young guys, it's a good opportunity to show how you can contribute and stuff like that. It's definitely an important time of the year.”
Pearce played in only 43 games this season; he was twice placed on the disabled list with wrist injuries. He is one of the many Orioles who are playing this month for next year.
“It's very satisfying,” Pearce said of his big game. “It was almost hard to picture anything good coming out of this year on a personal note.”
The Orioles (84-77) came out on top despite another abbreviated start by Wei-Yin Chen, who had a chance for his eighth win of the season and his first since Aug. 21 before the bullpen stumbled.
Chen gave up three runs on nine hits and a walk in 51/3 innings. One of the runs scored because a catchable ball fell in between three Orioles in shallow right field. Still, Chen, who finished the season 7-7 with a 4.07 ERA in 23 outings, failed to complete six innings for the fifth time in his past seven starts.
“This is really important to me, to not only go deep but also to limit my pitch count,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “I waste too much pitch count in the first couple innings and this is a lesson I have to learn. This is my priority next spring to go deeper as a starter.”
Josh Stinson relieved Chen and picked up two quick outs to end the sixth, but allowed two runs (one earned) in the seventh to give the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. It was the first time since his recall in September that he allowed a hit or a run. That streak ended with four singles; the go-ahead run scored when Jason Pridie bobbled a base hit to left. It was Pridie's second error this week.
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The Orioles held the lead until the seventh, thanks to an offense that made things a bit difficult for usual Oriole killer Jon Lester, who entered the night 8-1 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles scored individual runs in the second and third against Lester. Pearce's RBI double gave the Orioles the early lead and Brian Roberts made it 2-0 in the third with his eighth homer of the season.
It was the third long ball in five games for Roberts, the 35-year-old second baseman and longest tenured Oriole who is a free agent at season's end. Beset by injuries since signing a four-year, $40 million extension before the 2010 season, Roberts has turned it on as the season has waned. Five of his eight homers have come in September and in his past 41 games he has hit .260 with six homers, 22 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
“He's been healthy and solid for us. I think he's really played a good second base while he's been back. He's swung the bat well,” Showalter said. “It's always been a matter of Brian's health when he's out there. He's a player that everyone's real proud of.”
The Orioles picked up two more runs in fifth against Lester on RBI singles by Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia. It then became a battle of the bullpens – one that the Orioles ultimately won thanks to a perfect, four-out performance from rookie Kevin Gausman (3-5) and Jim Johnson's AL-leading 49th save.
"I think it is always good when you end on a good note and that's what we're trying to do,” Gausman said. “We kind of had a little meeting as a pitching staff right before Toronto came into town [on Tuesday]. We thought about [how] an 85-win season is a lot better than 81. So we wanted to finish strong, and everybody kind of put a check mark by their name for next year.”