The game itself may go down as a footnote compared to all of the context surrounding it.
First, there was the debut of the official jersey patch to honor the life of Brooks Robinson. The Orioles will wear it for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the postseason.
Then, a few innings into the game it was announced that the Orioles and the State of Maryland had agreed to a new lease. This deal will keep the team in Baltimore and at Camden Yards for the next thirty years, at least. Although this was always the assumed outcome, it took quite a long time for it be finalized. It feels good for it to be done.
And of course, there is the division title. It’s a monumental achievement for any team, but particularly this one. Pre-season expectations for this group were optimistic but muted. There was some belief that they had over-achieved in 2022 and were due for a return to “reality” this season. Instead, they have rocketed into the stratosphere, and it might be a few years before they come back down.
Since this is a game recap, let’s cover the action.
Anthony Santander launched a first-inning home run off of Red Sox starter Chris Sale. The long fly ball just kept on going, landing in the front row beyond The Wall in left field.
Let's get the party started. pic.twitter.com/eaXpIpngQB— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 28, 2023
Although that was not the only run the Orioles scored in this game, it would prove to be all they needed on a night of stellar work from the pitching staff.
Dean Kremer had his good stuff working in this one. Over 5.1 shutout innings he allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out eight, tied for the second-most K’s he has recorded in an outing this season. Nearly a third of the swings he enticed ended in whiffs, one of his best rates of the season.
Typically, Kremer mixes pitches a lot, jumping between five different offerings. But on this occasion he was almost exclusively a fastball pitcher. His four-seamer accounted for 48% of his pitches, and his cutter was 33%. Regardless of what he was throwing, the Red Sox weren’t hitting it.
The only trouble Kremer faced came in the sixth. Connor Wong reached base on an error by Jorge Mateo. A one-out single from Rafael Devers put runners on the corners. That ended Kremer’s evening, and in trotted DL Hall. The southpaw was stellar, striking out Adam Duvall and getting a groundout from Alex Verdugo to escape unscathed.
Hall stayed on for a clean seventh as well. The ball was then turned over to Yennier Cano to face a righty-heavy portion of the Boston lineup. He opened things with a groundout, then served up a soft single to Wong before striking out Ceddane Rafaela. But Brandon Hyde wasn’t about to let him face Devers.
That job was given to Cionel Pérez. After a Wong steal, Pérez got Devers to roll over an inside sinker. Ryan O’Hearn was pulled away from the base to field it. Pérez sprinted to cover and arrived just in time, catching the feed from O’Hearn with his bare hand to end the inning in emphatic fashion.
Although magic was already in the air, an insurance run certainly would have settled the butterflies in our collective stomachs. The fellas delivered in the bottom of the eighth.
Adam Frazier pinch hit for Jordan Westburg and led off with a five-pitch walk. He moseyed over to second on a James McCann ground out. Heston Kjerstad stepped in for Mateo, and served a gentle liner into shallow center field that just fell in front of the responding Rafaela. That ball then kicked away, allowing Frazier to score and Kjerstad to reach second. The lead was now two, a minuscule advantage most nights but seemingly insurmountable in this moment.
Tyler Wells was called upon to pitch the ninth, his first time appearing in back-to-back games since 2021. He looked just fine. It took only nine pitches, and then finally the moment was here. An easy grounder to Ramón Urías at third, a perfect throw across the diamond. The game was over. The Orioles are a 100-win team, the division belongs to Baltimore, and in the American League the path to the World Series runs through Camden Yards.
It’s been such a long road. The Orioles were a disaster in 2018. So bad that it required a cleaning of house to right the ship, and the results were far from instant. But after some painful rebuilding years, the Orioles and their fan base have earned this. They are AL East champions with a bright future ahead.
The job isn’t done, of course. This team has higher aspirations. The goal now is to win a World Series. But that shouldn’t stop them (or us!) from soaking this in for a while. They will have a little time to enjoy it.
Three games remain in the regular season. The Orioles do not have anything to play for in those games as they have clinched the division and the top seed in the American League. But they will certainly want to stay healthy and keep everyone as sharp as possible. Their first playoff game will take place on October 7 against the winner of the matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds.
But we should have a fun weekend ahead anyway. John Means (1-1, 2.60) is back on the bump tomorrow for his final tuneup ahead of the postseason. He will be opposed by Nick Pivetta (9-9, 4.25 ERA). First pitch is 7:05.
Oh and by the way...the Norfolk Tides also won the International League championship tonight by beating the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Just another night in Birdland.
Let’s freakin’ go O’s!
Who was the Most Birdland Player on the night that the Orioles clinched the 2023 AL East title?
This poll is closed
Dean Kremer (W, 5.1 shutout innings, eight strikeouts)
Anthony Santander (28th homer of the season)
Heston Kjerstad (clutch pinch-hit RBI)
DL Hall (got out of sixth-inning jam)