Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks to the media after his team's 2-1 victory in Sunday's game against Arizona. (Video by Jon Meoli; photos by Matt Hazlett of Getty Images and Gail Burton of the Associated Press)
The Orioles found new life this weekend at Camden Yards, reviving their postseason hopes after a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks to end their regular-season home schedule.
With the three interleague wins, the Orioles reasserted control of their postseason fate. They lead the Detroit Tigers by 1 1/2 games for the second American League wild-card spot, and after Monday's day off, they head to Toronto for three game against the AL East rival Blue Jays, whom the Orioles trail by 1 1/2 games for the first wild-card berth.
The Orioles' playoff picture will be determined on the road in Toronto and New York, where they have another three-game series against the Yankees. Whether the Orioles will play beyond next Sunday appears likely to come down to the season's final days.
Still, the Orioles (85-71) are in a much better place now, after their 2-1 win Sunday over the Diamondbacks, than they were Thursday. The visiting Boston Red Sox's four-game sweep had all but ended any hopes of a division title; the Orioles were officially eliminated from contention Sunday.
"It doesn't take [the sting] away, because that's come and gone," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It really has. It left. You have to do that, and our guys do it. Just like, do the Red Sox fold the tent when we were beating them early in the season, sometime during the season? That's the fortitude you've got to have. Our guys are warriors. They grind through a lot of things. Working on short sleep, game 150-whatever. That's a hard game to win today. It really is."
The sweep was the Orioles' fifth in a home series of three games or more this season and their first since taking three against the Cleveland Indians on July 22-24 shortly after the All-Star break. But the wins over the Diamondbacks (64-91), a team in last place in the National League West and 27 games under .500, were less a great feat than a needed reversal of the Orioles' second-half struggles.
"It was huge," said closer Zach Britton, who remained perfect on the season by converting his 46th save opportunity. "I think it was good that we were able to turn the page. The starting pitching did a great job the last three days and that kind of set the tone for everything. And then the offense, we gave them a chance to get going and they scored some runs and the bullpen came in and did a great job."
Seven of the Orioles' 11 runs in the series came by home run, including left fielder Hyun Soo Kim's two-run shot in the second inning, which accounted for all of their scoring Sunday. The story of their major league-leading 245 homers has been a source of joy and bittersweetness, but on Sunday, one home run was enough to seal a win and the sweep.
"That home run was a great thing, and it's amazing that it happened in the last game," Kim said through interpreter Danny Lee. "Overall, the pitching was tremendous and it brought us the win. I am just happy for the team to win. … It's a great feeling, the week before the season is over, that we are still in it. But it's important that we are in it after a week. I will make [sure] I am part of it and the team goes to the right place."
Right-hander Dylan Bundy (10-6) became the first Orioles rookie to win 10 games since Wei-Yin Chen in 2012, holding Arizona to one run over three hits while striking out five batters and walking one. But the story of the game — and the series — was the continued success of the Orioles bullpen, which threw 10 1/3 scoreless innings over the three games, allowing just four hits while striking out 14 and walking four.
Two days after six Orioles relievers combined for six scoreless innings in a 3-2, 12-inning walk-off win, the bullpen accounted for four scoreless innings on Sunday. Over the 11-game homestand, the Orioles bullpen posted a 0.81 ERA.
Right-hander Mychal Givens retired six of the seven batters he faced in two scoreless innings, striking out four. Brad Brach overcame a one-out walk to pitch a scoreless eighth, and Britton threw a scoreless ninth despite a two-out single by pinch hitter Kyle Jensen.
The Orioles finished the regular season 50-31 at home, tying the 2014 season for their most home wins in 25 years at Camden Yards. The Orioles also received an attendance boon this weekend after a disappointing showing against Boston, drawing an average of 36,551 in their three games after an announced 31,229 showed up Sunday. In 81 home games overall, the Orioles averaged 26,819, currently 20th in the majors.
They finished their final homestand of the regular season 5-6. Whether Camden Yards will reopen for postseason baseball again this year remains to be seen, but the Orioles finished their home slate doing all they could to ensure another home game. The Orioles need to earn the first wild-card spot or advance to the AL Division Series for that to happen.
"I thought about this homestand, how much we wanted to play well and win the games in front of that type of crowd," Showalter said. "End of the regular season, obviously … is for the fans. You want to repay their support more than anything.
"Their support has a lot to do with us having a good record," Showalter added. "It's always been — what's a good word? — [a] refuge or safe haven for us. A lot goes into making that atmosphere such [as it is], from the clubhouse to the players to the fans to the organization as a whole, and most of all, the city. It played to our advantage."