Orioles clinch first postseason berth since 1997

Orioles clinch first postseason berth since 1997

Orioles clinch first postseason berth since 1997
BALTIMORE -- The magic number is finally zero.

In an incredible season in which Baltimore has defied expectations, the Orioles officially clinched a postseason berth Sunday night after Texas defeated the Angels in the second game of a doubleheader. Coupled with the a 6-3 victory over the Red Sox earlier in the day, the Orioles clnched no worse than one of the two American League Wild Card spots.

Just a year ago, the Orioles were a plucky team spoiling Boston's playoff hopes. Now, they have a ticket to the postseason for the first time since 1997 and a share of the American League East with the Yankees.

The Orioles had hoped to clinch before departing for Tampa on Sunday night, but had to wait after the Angels rallied to take the first game of their doubleheader against the Rangers. The Rangers' 8-7 victory in the nightcap ended just before 10:30 p.m.

While it would have been nice to celebrate on their home turf, the O's will board a plane to Tampa without any disappointment.

"You're in, you're in," center fielder Adam Jones said of clinching a playoff spot. "I don't care, nobody cares. We can do it at home or we can do it on the plane. We are going to party somewhere."

Added reliever Darren O'Day: "I take particular enjoyment in ruining someone else's clubhouse. I don't know if you've ever had that smell in your nose, but it's not a pleasant one the next day."

The Orioles -- who remain focused on winning the AL East -- rode an early lead and a solid 7 1/3 innings from starter Joe Saunders to a sweep over the Red Sox. The win, Baltimore's fourth in a row, ended with closer Jim Johnson picking up his 50th save.

"It's a crazy number, obviously," said Johnson, who became the 10th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish the feat. "But we still have three more games, and that's pretty much where my focus is at right now."

The Orioles took another step forward with Sunday's win, improving to 92-67 in recording their 10th series sweep. Using a three-run first inning off Boston's Zach Stewart, and a continued power surge, the O's ensured they're in the proverbial driver's seat as they head to the final three game series of the regular season, owning the tiebreaker for home-field advantage over the Yankees should the two clubs have to play a tiebreaker to decide the division.

"I think everybody knows what we're going for here, and that's the AL East," O'Day said. "We have confidence in ourselves that we're going to win the last three, so we don't have to depend on anybody else."

"It's a very hungry team," said Saunders, who exited to a standing ovation. "It's a young bunch of guys that I think want to prove something and that's a good thing to have."

Nate McLouth got things started Sunday with leadoff homer giving the Orioles a lead they would never relinquish. Shortstop J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis also went deep, with Davis -- who has homered in four consecutive games -- homering off reliever Clay Mortensen. Veteran Jim Thome drove in a pair of runs, including a third-inning single that chased Stewart.

Saunders allowed a pair of homers -- a fourth-inning solo shot from Cody Ross and a two-run homer from Daniel Nava in the seventh that accounted for all of Boston's runs. After Nava's blast, Pedro Ciriaco singled to keep Boston threatening, but he got caught in a rundown for the second out. Second baseman Robert Andino, inserted as a defensive replacement, made a nice stop on Jose Iglesias' ball and first baseman Mark Reynolds continued his highlight-reel-worthy play at first with a lunging catch.

"In my opinion, September is a whole other season in itself," Saunders said. "It's crunch time, especially if you're in a race, and it's time to get down to business. I've always tried to pride myself in stepping up in that situation and doing the best I can."

O'Day took over for Saunders, with catcher Matt Wieters erasing Dustin Pedroia's single by throwing him out at second from his knees. O'Day struck out Ross to end the eighth, with Johnson closing it out as the O's improved to an astounding 73-0 when leading after seven innings.

"They had a losing culture here," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of the Orioles. "It looks like they've turned that around. They are playing with a good feel."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.