The Orioles used a solid performance from their starter Ubaldo Jimenez and an offensive outburst led by Steve Pearce and Alejandro De Aza to beat the Blue Jays 8-2 and clinch the AL East crown tonight in Baltimore, Maryland at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
It seemed as if this would be another start by the Baltimore-era Jimenez. He issued a first inning one-out walk to Jose Baustista and then Edwin Encarnacion doubled to give the Blue Jays a 1-0 just three hitters into the game. However, Jimenez would settle down and strike out the next two batters to limit the damage.
The Orioles lineup could feel the energy in the stadium as they started fast as well. Nick Markakis led off with a single to right field. Two batters later, Nelson Cruz got himself a single to right field, putting runners on first and second. Then, on a night where the ever surprising Orioles could clinch, who else would give the Orioles a lead in the first inning? Of course, it was #teamSteve. Pearce sent a deep fly ball to right center field off of a Drew Hutchison fastball. It made it just over the Southwest Airlines sign out there for a three-run home run, making it a 3-1 O's advantage.
But Jimenez kept things interesting. In the second inning, he issued back-to-back one-out walks to Munenori Kawasaki and Kevin Pillar. Then, following a flyout by Anthony Gose, Jose Reyes dropped a soft line drive in front of Markakis in right field, scoring Kawasaki and making it a 3-2 game. Reyes would advance to second and Pillar to third when the throw from Markakis skipped past Nick Hundley at home plate and Jimenez failed to back it up. The error was charged to Hundley.
But the Orioles would take that run right back in the bottom of the inning when Jimmy Paredes led off and took the second pitch he saw the opposite way to left center field. It made it about two or three rows into the stands to push it back to a two-run gap.
For the next four innings both pitchers would put up nothing but zeroes. Yes, that includes Jimenez, who battled and put the Orioles in a good position to win tonight. It took him 97 pitches to get through five innings and he only gave up two hits and struck out six, but he walked four. After the fourth inning, the MASN cameras captured Orioles manager Buck Showalter telling him what seemed to be "Atta boy. Now take a seat", but he went back out in the fifth and put together his third consecutive three up, three down inning. Really nice to see for Ubaldo.
As for Hutchison, perhaps the O's have figured out the puzzle that is the Toronto right-hander. Coming into tonight, he was 3-0 with a 1.16 ERA against Baltimore. That was not the case in this one. He did make it into the seventh inning, but that is where his night ended.
Paredes singled to lead off the inning. Then, with Flaherty batting, Paredes made a break for second base. Flaherty hit a ground ball back to Hutchison, who turned to make a throw to Reyes, covering second, but his toss bounced past the shortstop into shallow centerfield. Paredes advanced to third on the errant throw. Hutchison then struck out Hundley and was replaced by lefty Aaron Loup.
Loup hit Markakis with the first pitch out of his hand. Then De Aza worked a full count before smacking a triple into the right field corner on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. He cleared the bases with Paredes, Flaherty and Markakis all scoring to put the O's up 7-2 heading into the eighth inning.
The O's loaded the bases once again in the bottom of the ninth with a J.J. Hardy walk and singles from Jonathan Schoop and Flaherty with one out. Hundley added to the Birds lead with a sacrifice fly to left field. Hardy trotted in from third and Schoop went to third on the poor throw from the outfield. The O's were up 8-2 heading into the ninth inning.
At his point, I started to hyperventilate.
As they did back in April, the Orioles turned to Tommy Hunter to close down the game and clinch Baltimore's spot in October. While he had us on the edge of our seats, as always, he finished things up and made it official: the Baltimore Orioles are the 2014 American League East Champions.
Jimenez earned the win, his fifth of the season. Pearce parked his 18th home run of the year and Paredes had his second. Wow, we kind of expected Jimenez to be winning games when the Orioles signed him back in February. Who though Jimmy Paredes and Steve Pearce would be contributors. Holy cow.
After the game, the champagne and beer flowed. The players, the fans and the city deserved it. But it is fair to say that this is not where things end for the Birds. The "Magic Number" in their head is now 11. It takes that many postseason wins to bring the World Series title back to Charm City.
But for now, celebrate Baltimore. Celebrate Birdland. Celebrate Camden Chat. This is an awesome moment. For tonight, the Orioles are at the top of the baseball world. Congratulations, boys.