BALTIMORE (AP) — The champagne was on ice, plastic shields were in place above the cubicles in the Baltimore clubhouse and couches were removed to accommodate a celebration 15 years in the making.
The party never happened — at least not at the ballpark after the Orioles beat Boston 6-3 Sunday.
Baltimore ultimately clinched its first playoff berth since 1997, but not until late Sunday when the Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-7 in the finale of a day-night doubleheader.
The Orioles are assured a wild-card berth, but they're looking to get into the postseason as AL East champions. Upon arriving in Tampa area, where the Orioles open a season-ending series at the Rays on Monday night, manager Buck Showalter said, "I think everybody knows where the finish line is, and we're not there."
He added, "There are steps to it. One is assuring yourself of getting a chair at the dance. And then we'd like to figure out a way to play some games at our park in front of our fans. It's in our court."
The Orioles remained tied atop the division standings with the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat Toronto 9-6 and also clinched no worse than a wild-card berth.
Both contenders have three games left. New York begins a season-ending series against visiting Boston on Monday night, and the Orioles face the Rays.
"We'll see where the next three games take us," Showalter said.
After the final out of their win over the Red Sox, around two dozen players and coaches took scoreboard watching to a new level by staying on the field at Camden Yards and rooting for the Rangers to win the opener,
Orioles players exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps following their fourth straight victory, then gathered along the first-base line to watch the scoreboard telecast of the ninth inning, which began with Texas winning 4-3.
Many in the crowd of 41,257 stood and watched, too.
But a two-out, two-run double by Torii Hunter put the Angels in front and ruined the fun. As the Orioles walked off the field, Showalter waved to the crowd and offered a fist-pump of encouragement.
Sitting in front of his locker with a beer in his hand, first baseman Mark Reynolds said, "It would have definitely been cool to celebrate with our fans. They've been supporting us all year. To be able to celebrate out there with them and take in the moment, it would have been pretty neat."
Baltimore held out hope of cracking open a few cases of champagne in Florida.
"I take particular enjoyment in ruining someone else's clubhouse," reliever Darren O'Day said.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy added, "I'm not going to say there's no disappointment, but we all understand we need to keep playing good baseball to get where we want to be. We'll just worry about ourselves and win the next three games."
Who'd have thought the Orioles would be talking about division titles, playoff berths and champagne after 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes? The Orioles (92-67) already have 23 more wins than a year ago.
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