"It's pretty special to come in here tomorrow and have a chance to do that," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who became one of only three Baltimore managers to have multiple 90-win seasons. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of reasons, but tonight I look forward to losing that sleep. It's been a long hard grind to have that opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the chance to see our guys get a chance tomorrow. We've worked hard for this opportunity."
The O's latest win, which puts them at a season-high 30 games over .500, was a familiar sight of good pitching and unexpected contributions. This time it was Ryan Flaherty, who hit a two-run fourth-inning homer to pad the O's lead and help back a solid outing from Wei-Yin Chen along with 3 1/3 scoreless from the bullpen that culminated in Zach Britton's 35th save.
"You go into Spring Training, I think all 30 teams, when you break camp, all the men that put that time and effort into it, they want to get to this moment," Adam Jones said of the Os, who officially eliminated the Yankees from AL East contention with the win. "We're just fortunate to put the pieces together. We're also missing some pieces, but the resilience of this team is its strength."
Chen, tested early and often by a right-handed-heavy Toronto lineup, held the Blue Jays to two runs on nine hits and a walk over 5 2/3 innings for his 16th win, which is tied for second most in the AL. The lefty allowed three consecutive singles to start the game, but was able to escape the first inning with just one run thanks to Nick Markakis' two-out gem of a snag to rob John Mayberry.
"I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle, I was trying to keep the ball down and get out of the inning without allowing too many runs," Chen said through his interpreter. "Fortunately, I can do that with the help of my teammates. They made a lot of great plays out there."
The O's bats answered right back, with Jones plating Markakis on an infielder dribbler and Alejandro De Aza -- who doubled -- crossing the plate on Nelson Cruz's double-play ball. Cruz drove in another run in the third before Flaherty gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead with a homer off starter Marcus Stroman onto the flag court.
"It's special," Flaherty said of the O's being on the verge of clinching. "Back in February, we set out on this mission, believed we could do it. The light's there at the end of the tunnel, just got to go out and get it."
The only thing that dimmed the win was a scary moment in the sixth inning when Stroman threw a pitch that sailed past rookie catcher Caleb Joseph, causing Stroman and both benches to be warned by home-plate umpire Ted Barrett.
"If you don't have the command to throw the ball where you're supposed to, to deliver a message, then you shouldn't be throwing at all there," said an angry Showalter of Stroman's purpose pitch, which looked to be in response to Joseph stepping on Jose Reyes' hand on a play at the plate the previous inning. "It really pushed the hot button with all of us because it certainly wasn't called for. That was obvious. It was borderline professionally embarrassing."
Joseph said he wasn't entirely sure what happened that got Reyes so upset, and didn't want to judge Stroman's intent.
"There's life outside of baseball, you know? I have a wife and a baby on the way. Those are the type of things that go through your head when that kind of stuff happens," Joseph said. "I am glad it didn't hit me. So, yeah, there's a code. Every baseball player knows there's a code. I'm not the judge here to judge intent or any of that stuff. I'm just glad it didn't hit me."