ARLINGTON, Texas — The
' first playoff game in 15 years took them deep into the heart of Texas to face a team that spent most of the season as the best in the
The eyes of the baseball world turned to the long-suffering Orioles and their unlikely path to the postseason, as they played a do-or-die game in front of 46,931 rally-towel waving fans at the home of the
And much as they've done all season — with different players across the roster sharing the role of hero — the underdog Orioles showed how much fight they truly have.
They grinded out a 5-1 win at
Nearly six years to the day that Orioles manager
"I'm all for irony," Showalter said.
The night ended with the Orioles charging the field in celebration to the chant of "Let Go, O's" from the stands. A champagne celebration then broke out in the clubhouse – with the primary target being manager Showalter – a reward the Orioles didn't get to enjoy when they clinched a playoff berth while aboard a plane to Tampa Bay for their final series of the regular season.
“We knew with the win tonight we were going to have fun, but back to business over the weekend with the Yankees,” first baseman
Friday's victory was the Orioles' first in the postseason since Game 5 of the 1997 American League Championship Series against the
"This is a terrific moment," first-year executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. This is a terrific moment for Baltimore. This is a terrific moment for the owners, the fans, the players. Hats off to everybody. This is a young team, a hungry team. And I know they have more work to do."
Showalter put the Orioles' postseason hopes — and a lot of faith — in left-hander
He allowed eight base runners — six hits, a walk and an error — but just one run over 5 2/3 innings, before Showalter turned to his bullpen.
A Virginia native who grew up rooting for the Orioles, Saunders had lost nine of his past 12 starts and was getting pinched out of Arizona's rotation at the time of his trade. Yet he outpitched Japanese rookie right-hander
The Orioles turned three critical double plays to help Saunders, tying their postseason club record for a single game set on Oct. 6, 1979, in Game 4 of the ALCS against the California Angels.
As Saunders left the game, he strolled into the Orioles dugout to a greeting full of high-fives and a hug from pitching coach Rick Adair.
“He gave us a chance to win the game,” center fielder
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead just two batters into the game. Rangers first baseman
Saunders walked the first hitter he faced, second baseman
Saunders also received key double-play balls in the third — which erased a leadoff fielding error by Reynolds — and an inning-ending double-play ball in the fifth.
The Orioles tacked on another run in the seventh. Rookie second baseman
McLouth, one of the many reclamation projects who turned into a key member of the Orioles' run to the postseason, then singled to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
In the top of the ninth, the O's added two more runs to their cushion.
"We've really stuck together," McLouth said. "Ever since I've been here, there've been a lot of different contributions from a lot of different people. It takes a lot of pressure off people. We don't count on on or two guys to come through every night. It's been a great group effort."
Because baseball rules allow teams to reset their postseason rosters after every series, Showalter had 10 relievers at his disposal.
But Darren O'Day, who was claimed off waivers in early November and has emerged as one of the most dependable middle relievers in the game, ate up most of those innings. O'Day tossed a season-high two scoreless innings, retiring six of the seven batters he faced, before Showalter turned to left-hander
Matusz struck out Hamilton — who was 0-for-10 with six strikeouts against Matusz, on three pitches — putting him away with a 93 mph fastball.
The Rangers loaded the bases against closer