Playoff Bound

In a season where . . . . . . Chris Davis pitched two scoreless innings, struck out Adrian Gonzalez and Jarrod Saltalamachia swinging, and picked up the Win after an 0-8, 5 K performance at the plate;

. . . The Orioles have won sixteen consecutive extra-inning games after losing their first two extra-inning contests on the season;

. . . The Orioles have posted an unprecedented 28-9 record (.757 winning percentage) in one-run games;

. . . The O’s have used FIFTY-TWO different players; and

. . . The Orioles have continued to win despite non-existent expectations and poor underlying statistical performances . . .

There was only one way for the Orioles could have realistically been informed of the fact that they clinched their postseason berth in 15 years – by finding out while sitting on the team plane in Jacksonville, Florida just moments after the plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to a small kitchen fire onboard.  This was about six hours after the Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox for their 92nd win and were waiting patiently on the field to being their celebration, only to watch with 40,000 fans at Camden Yards as Rangers’ closer Joe Nathan blew a ninth inning lead against the Angels, thereby delaying the O’s playoff clinching moment until later in the evning.  Given how ridiculous of a season this has been for the Orioles – and “ridiculous” is the only operative word that can be used to describe it – having the team find out they are in the playoffs under those circumstances seems so “right”.

I prefer to categorize the playoff clinching moment as “unusual” rather than “anti-climatic”.  For the fans – and I am sure for the players as well – there is nothing anticlimactic about securing a long-awaited playoff berth.  I read as some fans admitted they shed a tear (or two or three . . .) once the final out in last night’s Rangers/Angels game was recorded.  I sifted through blog entries, message board posts, and tweets of stunned Oriole fans trying to express just how great they felt at that very moment.  It was a long time coming and people were understandably emotional.

As for us?  Well, I think it is safe to say our reactions were a tad more understated.  Tim pumped his first when that final out was recorded.  I smiled and took to the internet to see what the other hardcore Oriole fans were thinking and feeling.  We briefly discussed the playoffs and the scenarios for the end of the regular season – almost matter-of-factly.  Then I went to bed and that was that.  I wasn’t attempting to play it cool or anything – anyone that knows me knows that any attempt at coolness usually ends in spectacular failure.  It wasn’t playing it cool.  We knew this day was coming.  It had gone from likely in early-September to being an odds-on likelihood mid-month to being all but locked away by the end of last week.  We had done our yelling, screaming, and emotional outpours at the 70 or so games we attended this season.  Hell, we done the whole emotional thing just hours earlier when the Rangers were one out away from helping the O’s clinch that allusive playoff spot by winning Game #1 of their day/night double header.  That final out of the second Rangers/Angels game was merely symbolic of what we already knew was coming eventually.  We were content – the yelling, shouting, celebrating, and emotional outpours can wait for a more appropriate time and setting . . . perhaps Game 7 of the American Championship Series.

The Orioles have three games left – all versus the Rays in St. Petersburg, Florida.  By my count, if the Orioles go 2-1 they can finish with nothing less than the top wild card spot.  The A’s are one game behind the Orioles at the moment with 91 wins to the Orioles’ 92 wins.  If the Orioles win 2 of 3 from the Rays, they will have 94 wins on the season.  If the A’s sweep the Rangers, they will also end up with 94 wins and would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Baltimore.  However, that tiebreaker is irrelevant in that specific scenario.  If the A’s sweep the Rangers, they will take over first place in the American League West.  Texas would become the second wild card team (or end up tied with the Angels if LA were to win out).  Texas would end with 93 wins and the Orioles – with 94 wins – would take the top wild card spot.  Any fewer number of wins for Oakland will see them finish with less total wins then the Orioles, assuming the O’s can win two of their next three.

Sounds easy, but who knows with this crazy season.  The Rays are certainly no pushovers either and will be fighting hard as their playoff chances are still alive (although on life-support).  Then there are still the Yankees and the AL East crown that the Orioles could potentially come away with along with a truckload of other alternative scenarios.  Let me put it this way – the Orioles could play the Yankees in a tie-breaker on Thursday in Baltimore, play Oakland in the wild card game on Friday, and play the Rangers in Game #1 of the ALDS on Sunday in Texas.  They could do that or they could win the AL East and get the best record in the American League and not play again until Sunday in New York (or Oakland or LA or Texas . . .)  Or something in between one of those two extremes could occur.  It should be an interesting – if not tense – few days.  Then again with this season, that really isn’t anything new.