CLEVELAND — The Orioles will have the chance to clinch the American League East next week at Camden Yards. That’s in large part thanks to how well they have played away from it.
Baltimore closed the road portion of its regular-season schedule Sunday with a 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Guardians. With the Tampa Bay Rays losing to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles’ magic number to clinch the division fell to three. Regardless of how the Rays close the season, three victories on the upcoming six-game homestand would give Baltimore its first AL East title since 2014 and first 100-win season since 1980.
The Orioles (97-59) have played well in Baltimore in putting together the AL’s best record, but they have been even better on the road. Sunday’s victory left them at 52-29, matching the 1997 “wire-to-wire” club for the most wins as visitors in franchise history.
“I just think we’re a really consistent team that shows up no matter where we are and plays good baseball,” starting pitcher Kyle Gibson said. “We do the little things right, and when you do the little things right, especially on the road, I think that’s a recipe for success.
“If we just keep taking care of business, it’ll be a whole lot of fun here coming up.”
Staked an early lead, Gibson ensured it held with seven innings of one-run ball, his 17th quality start and third in four September outings. Gibson, a 35-year-old veteran signed this offseason to be a stabilizing presence in a young rotation, has pitched 187 innings this year, the most by an Oriole since 2015.
“He’s been huge, both as a player, as a leader, a guy in the clubhouse,” said catcher Adley Rutschman, who reached base four times. “I think you add up all those things, [he’s a] massive part of what we’re doing.”
The only run Gibson allowed came in the fourth, when a pair of ground balls followed a leadoff double. Baltimore had built a four-run lead by that point. In his first start off the 60-day injured list for a right elbow sprain, Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie recorded five outs and issued six walks, including five in a three-run second. Heston Kjerstad, Baltimore’s No. 2 overall selection in the 2020 draft, opened the frame with a free pass, eventually coming home on a double from Jordan Westburg, taken 30th overall the same year. Jorge Mateo brought home a run with a groundout, and Anthony Santander walked with the bases loaded for his seventh RBI of the four-game series.
“[McKenzie] is coming back off of injury and wasn’t himself, so we got fortunate with that a little bit,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Obviously didn’t have the command he normally does, but we did a good job waiting him out.”
Rutschman walked in each of the first two innings, then doubled on the 10th pitch of his fourth-inning at-bat to score Mateo. In the fifth, Aaron Hicks reached on an infield single, went to second on Austin Hays’ walk, then came home on an RBI single from Cedric Mullins that ended an 0-for-18 skid.
Gibson came out for the eighth inning, the second straight day the Orioles’ starter did so after John Means pitched 6 2/3 no-hit innings Saturday, but a leadoff double ended his afternoon. Danny Coulombe stranded the inherited runner, an aspect of relief pitching he has excelled at this season, and DL Hall pitched a clean ninth as Baltimore’s run of 17 games in 17 days at last ended ahead of Monday’s day off.
After missing out on a chance to sweep the Houston Astros with a walk-off loss Wednesday and two defeats to open their series against Cleveland (74-83), the Orioles responded with consecutive wins to split the matchup. Baltimore dropped only seven of its 26 road series this season, never getting swept.
“To end this long stretch with a 4-3 road trip, I don’t think people understand how tough that is,” Hyde said. “Shows the toughness of our team. They go 4-3 on this trip, two tough places to play after playing all these games in a row, just shows you a lot of the character of our club.”
The Orioles went 9-8 overall during that stretch, within it having a four-game losing streak, four-game winning streak and three-game losing streak in succession. But winning three games among their two with the Washington Nationals and four with the Boston Red Sox will give them a division title, with any Tampa Bay losses reducing that requiring count.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
“It’s been probably about as much up-and-down baseball as we’ve played all year,” Gibson said. “Losing four, winning four, losing a couple here, winning a couple, that’s kind of uncharacteristic of us. But I think the one thing that stands true is they were all pretty close ballgames. We were in them. We fought back in a couple of them, took the lead in a couple of them and unfortunately gave it up, but then we kind of put a stamp on it here today and played really, really good baseball.
“Everybody needs the off-day tomorrow, and we’ll come back home and enjoy a little celebration at home hopefully with the fans.”
Nationals at Orioles
Tuesday, 6:35 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM