The surprising O’s have already beaten some big odds, getting past the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers and their Japanese ace, Yu Darvish, in the win-or-go-home wild-card playoff.
Joe Saunders pitched effectively into the sixth inning at a place where he had never won, Adam Jones delivered the tiebreaking sacrifice fly and the Orioles, in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, eliminated the Rangers 5-1 Friday night.
The Orioles advance to play the East champion Yankees, the AL’s top seed — the teams split 18 games this season. The best-of-five division series starts Sunday at Camden Yards.
The upstart Orioles spent the whole second half chasing New York, never passing them and falling just short in a neck-and-neck race for the division title.
Turns out, the Yankees haven’t brushed off these Birds just yet.
And just that quickly, the season is over the Rangers, who were in first place for a majors-high 178 days this season. Texas loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth before David Murphy flied out to end it.
The Rangers lost the AL West crown on the final day of the regular season, after being swept in three games at Oakland for a stretch of nine losses their last 13 games.
Their worst slump of the season came at the wrong time for Ron Washington’s team, which a week ago had a four-game division lead with six games to play. Because of that, they couldn’t avoid the AL’s new winner-take-all postseason opener, and then couldn’t get past their Orioles with their top pitcher on the mound.
When the Rangers committed more than $107 million last winter to acquire Darvish, they did so with the anticipation he’d be on the mound for many big games.
They never would have expected him being outdueled in a playoff game by Saunders, a late-season addition by the Orioles who had lost all six of his previous starts with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark.
Saunders quickly gave up the Orioles’ 1-0 lead in the first, but that was the only run he allowed in 5 2-3 innings. The left-hander struck out four and walked one.
Even though it was the postseason, the Orioles stuck to the regular Friday night uniforms — including black tops and caps with script O’s instead of the traditional smiling cartoon bird.
Four pitches into the game, they had a lead against Darvish, who struck out seven in 6 2-3 innings.
Nate McLouth grounded Darvish’s first pitch toward first baseman Michael Young. The longest-tenured Rangers player got charged with an error when he tried to backhand the ball, which ricocheted off the heel of his glove and away from him.
McLouth stole second base on the third pitch. J.J. Hardy then drove him in by grounding a hard single up the middle — the Orioles had only one more hit until a sequence in the sixth that needed some interpretation.
The O’s had consecutive singles to start the sixth before Jones’ sacrifice fly made it 2-1.
After backing up the plate when Jones hit the ball in the air, Darvish started stretching his shoulder and rolling his neck. Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux went out to the mound to try to figure out what was wrong when their pitcher still looked uncomfortable.
Darvish’s translator, Joe Furukawa, was also on his way out before initially being waved back by umpires. The six umpires then conferred before allowing the translator to come out while Darvish kept stretching and then threw a couple of pitches.
Darvish finished the sixth with a strikeout, and started the seventh with another, before Ryan Flaherty’s single and a sac bunt by Manny Machado. Derek Holland took over and gave up an RBI single by McLouth for a 3-1 lead.