Losers no more, Orioles celebrate AL East title
BALTIMORE (AP) This one goes a long way toward making up for all the losing seasons, the meaningless Septembers and meager crowds at Camden Yards for the final games on the schedule.
The Baltimore Orioles are AL East champions for the first time since 1997, and they marked the occasion with a celebration that lasted long after the final out of their clinching 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
''There are some great moments in your life,'' manager Buck Showalter said. ''This ranks right up there.''
Showalter arrived in 2010, in the midst of Baltimore's 13th consecutive losing season. The Orioles lost 93 games in 2011, then broke the franchise-record run of futility by going 93-69 in 2012 to make the postseason as a wild card.
An 85-win season wasn't good enough to reach the playoffs last year, but now the Orioles are kings of a division that includes the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the free-spending New York Yankees, pitching-rich Tampa Bay, and the Blue Jays, who stood atop the AL East in June.
''You never know who is going to win, but you have to be crazy to think they didn't have a good ball club,'' Toronto manager John Gibbons said. ''They were in it two years ago. When you look at their team, it's a good ball club. Good solid pitching. They got gritty, hard-nosed type players. You really see that.''
A boisterous crowd of 35,279 cheered every out and stuck around an hour after the game to cheer the players, who returned to the field after celebrating with champagne and beer in the clubhouse.
Right fielder Nick Markakis began his career in 2006 and signed a six-year contract in 2009 in the midst of Baltimore's run of losing seasons. Covered with champagne and grinning broadly, he wouldn't have traded places with anyone.
''It's just a good feeling, an experience I'll never forget,'' he said. ''To do it with these guys, it's on a different level. It's awesome and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to be part of this team and this organization.''
The clinching victory featured an unlikely list of contributors, not at all unusual for a team that often delved deep into its 25-man roster.
Ubaldo Jimenez (5-9) allowed two hits over five innings in his first start since Aug. 16; Steve Pearce, who has morphed from a bit player to a key starter; and Jimmy Paredes, who didn't join the team until Aug. 28.
Pearce provided the Orioles with the lead for good with a three-run drive off Drew Hutchison (10-12) in the first inning. He has 18 home runs this year, one more than he had in 290 games as a part-timer from 2007-13.
Paredes hit a solo shot in the second to make it 4-2. It was his second homer in 10 games with Baltimore.
''That's why we have such a great team,'' Pearce said. ''It's been coming from everybody all year, and it took a lot of pressure off the core guys.''
This is the earliest the Orioles have clinched the division title since 1971. Baltimore is 91-60, its best record since finishing the 1997 season at 98-64.
All this is great, but the Orioles' work isn't done.
''We get to make another step,'' Showalter said. ''Regardless of what happens, it's not going to change how I feel about these guys. I really want them. I'm glad they're going to get the opportunity to hopefully show the rest of the country what they're about and what our city is about.''