Upon completing a 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox Saturday night to pull into a first-place tie with the New York Yankees in the American League East, the Orioles are in a position they haven’t faced in 30 years.
The last time the Orioles were tied for first place this late in the season was Oct. 2, 1982 when Baltimore pulled even with the Milwaukee Brewers in the AL East on the penultimate day of the season. Entering that final four-game set with the division-leading Brewers at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles trailed by three games and needed a sweep to win the division in Earl Weaver’s final season as manager (before he returned to manage the club in 1985).
After winning the first three games of the series to pull even with Milwaukee, the Orioles fell short in that final game of the 1982 season as future Hall of Fame pitchers Don Sutton and Jim Palmer squared off in what resulted in a 10-2 win for the Brewers. Of course, the stakes were much higher then with no wild card spots and the Orioles needing to win to keep their season alive.
The Orioles enjoyed sole possession of first place this late in the 1983 and 1997 seasons, with no one challenging them in the final month of 1983 and the Yankees getting no closer than two games behind Baltimore in the final week of the 1997 campaign.
In the famed 1989 “Why Not?” campaign, the Orioles began the final series of the season in Toronto trailing by one game and needing to win two of three to force a one-game playoff with the Blue Jays — or win all three to take the division outright — but dropped the first two at SkyDome to fall just short of pulling off the impossible.
Though focused intently on winning the AL East, the Orioles’ magic number for clinching a wild card spot is down to two with four games to play, all but assuring them of their first postseason berth since 1997. However, the Oakland Athletics’ comeback victory over Seattle Saturday kept them one game behind the Orioles in the wild card race. Oakland holds the tiebreaker over the Orioles via their 5-4 record in the head-to-head series this season, meaning they would host the wild card play-in game on Friday should the Orioles not win the division and the teams finish with the same record.
Should the Orioles remain tied for first with the Yankees, the teams would play a tiebreaker game in Baltimore on Thursday that would be considered the 163rd game of the regular season to determine the division champion. The season series was tied 9-9 between the clubs, but the Orioles own the next tiebreaker to host the game by way of their superior division record. Baltimore owns a 41-27 mark against the AL East while New York is only 37-31 as both clubs play their final four games against AL East opponents.
Regardless of how the next four days play out, the Orioles are tied for first place at the conclusion of play on Sept. 29. They can clinch a spot in the postseason with a win and a loss by the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Even typing those words makes it difficult to believe for a club from which so little was expected.
But believe it.
And buckle up.