It’s not as sexy or as permanent, but Game 159 had a day for itself.
A year and two days after what became known as “Game 162” altered the course of October, discovered the eventual World Series champion and provided the pivot for a handful of franchises – the Boston Red Sox for one, the Baltimore Orioles for another – Buck Showalter departed Camden Yards with a wave.
The Orioles had been walked off at home. After a win even, their 11th in 14 games.
The Los Angeles Angels had shoved them off the field – from Arlington, Texas.
It was a day like that, from the first pitch in Toronto, where the New York Yankees saved themselves by turning a four-run deficit into a three-run win, to the last pitch in Texas, where the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers had played from early afternoon to late evening.
On a day of great theater, deep breaths, a late Angels loss and one small airplane fire, the Orioles, Yankees and Rangers are – in some capacity – bound for the postseason. That is especially significant, and even astonishing, for the Orioles, the formerly robust franchise that had been swallowed whole by the American League East. As a wild card at least, they return to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Several hours earlier, after they’d beaten the Boston Red Sox again at Camden Yards, Orioles coaches and players stood in front of their dugout. The ballpark was nearly full of fans. Together, they watched the ninth inning of the first game in Texas on the JumboTron in right-center field. If the Rangers held a one-run lead, the Orioles (along with the Yankees and Rangers) were in, and the Oakland A’s were promised at least a play-in game. Even at 92 wins, Showalter and Co. would have to wait.
Torii Hunter doubled home two runs. The handshakes in Baltimore, and whatever celebration might come, were delayed. Players bowed their heads and shuffled to the clubhouse. Showalter waved.
“Our goal now is try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden [Yards],” Showalter told reporters in Baltimore. “Hopefully, it’s, ‘See you later.’”
The team would head to Tampa on a charter that, according to reports, diverted to Jacksonville when a kitchen fire filled the cabin with smoke.
Back in the air and headed to Tampa, the Orioles learned the Angels had left the tying run on base in the ninth inning and that they – the Orioles – would play beyond Wednesday, either as a wild card or the AL East champion. In case of a tie with the Yankees, a Thursday playoff game to determine the division winner would be played at Camden Yards. The next three days will tell, as it will around the league after a final Sunday that was remarkable for its drama.
Prince Fielder went opposite field in Minnesota to push the Detroit Tigers perhaps hours from an AL Central title most believed would be settled weeks ago, and sent the spiraling Chicago White Sox to the edge of dismissal.
Carlos Beltran drove in five runs that, in order, meant the St. Louis Cardinals remained two games clear for the National League’s second wild card, the Washington Nationals had some regular-season work ahead, and the Los Angeles Dodgers still were waiting on delivery for that miracle they bought.
With four games remaining for all but the Angels and Rangers, who each had five, Sunday broke with 15 teams either in the playoffs or with some hope for them. By the end of Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers had been eliminated, leaving 14.
David Price’s 20th win kept the Tampa Bay Rays within reach of the Oakland A’s (for the American League’s second wild card). The Rays host the Orioles three times beginning Monday in a series they hoped would arrive with a shot at the O’s. That didn’t happen. They can, however, catch the A’s, drag the Orioles into the wild-card game, and lift themselves into some ridiculous tie-breaking/play-in/death match scenario that – no matter the competition – they’d be favored in.
The A’s kept the Rays in best-case desperation mode with a pair of eighth-inning foul-pole scrapers in Oakland – Yoenis Cespedes to left, Josh Reddick to right, both gazed upon for a good while – against the Seattle Mariners.
In a nutshell, the A’s can catch – and even pass – the Rangers this week. They finish with three games in Oakland, where the Rangers have lost four of six games. The Angels go to Seattle for three, the Yankees host the Red Sox, the Cardinals host the Cincinnati Reds and the Dodgers play the San Francisco Giants in L.A.
After 159 games, a division has yet to be won in the American League. So we wait. We wait at least until Game 160.
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