Orioles Clinch First A.L. East Title in 17 Years

The Baltimore Orioles won the American League East title back in 1997. That was followed by 14 straight losing seasons that often saw the time out of contention by the All-Star break or the July 31 trade deadline, and frustrated longtime fans. The team managed to break that streak by winning a wild card game, and then taking the New York Yankees to five games in the 2012 American League Division Series, only to miss the playoffs last year despite another winning record. Now, the pennant drought and all those losing seasons have faded into distant memories.

The Orioles became the second team to clinch a playoff berth by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 to clinch the A.L. East title on Sept. 16 in the middle of a three-game series with Toronto at Camden Yards. After Toronto scored a run in the top of the first inning, Steve Pearce answered by hitting a three-run home run to put the Orioles on top for good. With the Orioles on top 4-2 in the seventh, new outfielder Alejandro De Aza hit a triple with the bases loaded to break the game open. Shortstop J.J. Hardy singled with one out in the eighth, and then scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Nick Hundley for the final run. The celebration began after Pearce fielded a grounder and stepped on first for the final out. After the celebration on the field, the champagne and beer started flying in the clubhouse, and then some of the players came back out of the dugout to salute the fans and spray some champagne and beer on them. Jones shared hugs with the grounds crew and high fives with fans as he carried the division championship flag around the warning track. Right-hander Ubaldo Jiminez, who’s struggled all season after signing a four-year, $50 million contract at the start of spring training, got a spot start, and allowed two runs on two hits, walked four and struck out six in five innings to improve to 5-9. It was the first game he’d pitched in since August 31.

Baltimore started their final homestand of the regular season by winning three out of four against the Yankees. Utility infielder Kelly Johnson, who started the season with New York before being traded to Boston at the end of July and to Baltimore at the end of August, hit a double in the bottom of the ninth to give the Orioles a 3-2 win over New York in Derek Jeter’s final game in Baltimore in front of a national audience on ESPN. That whittled the Orioles’ magic number to clinch the division down to three to eliminate Toronto. In the Sept. 15 series opener against the Blue Jays, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen gave up a run in the first inning, but Baltimore responded with an RBI single by Adam Jones, and De Aza scored on a double play grounder by Nelson Cruz. Cruz drove in Jones with a single in the third. In the fourth, second baseman Ryan Flaherty hit a no-doubt two-run homer out onto Eutaw Street through an open gate in the flag court to put the Orioles on top 5-1 on the way to a 5-2 win. That set up the clinching game the following night.

The Orioles will play in the American League Division Series starting on October 2. Their opponent will be determined based on the outcomes of the wild card and other division races.