Orioles clinch AL East with 8-2 win over Blue Jays
By David Ginsburg
AP Sports writer
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Champagne was spraying all around him, and Dan Duquette couldn't help but laugh at the mayhem he helped create.
The Orioles clinched their first AL East title since 1997 by beating Toronto 8-2 Tuesday night, and Duquette was right in the middle of a long overdue celebration in the Baltimore clubhouse.
"The guys are having a great time, and they earned it," said Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations. "We've got some more work to do, and these guys know it, but congratulations to them on the division crown. They did a great job."
With their ninth win in 10 games, the Orioles clinched their second playoff appearance in three years following a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
After the final out, the Orioles converged behind second base. Fireworks soared in the outfield, while streamers and confetti sprayed throughout the boisterous crowd of 35,279.
The party continued in the clubhouse, where players wore goggles and smiles while covered in champagne and beer.
"It's everything I hoped for, man. It's an awesome experience," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who experienced six of those losing seasons. "We worked hard all season long to get where we are now. We got one step out of the way. Now we have a couple more steps to go."
It was Baltimore's ninth AL East title, but only its second since 1983, when the Orioles last won the World Series.
The franchise has enjoyed a rebirth under the guidance of manager Buck Showalter, whose 1,254th victory thrust him past mentor Billy Martin into sole possession of 36th place on the career list.
"There's probably not a better strategy guy in the game," reliever Darren O'Day said. "He sees things days in advance. He put guys in opportunities to succeed. It was pretty special."
Baltimore is 42-23 in a division that includes the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, the free-spending New York Yankees and pitching-rich Tampa Bay. The Orioles led by only four games on Aug. 6 before going on a 27-11 run.
"We're AL East champs," Steve Pearce said in the midst of the drenched clubhouse. "Awesome."
The clinching victory featured an unlikely list of contributors, not at all unusual for a team that often delved deep into its 25-man roster.
Ubaldo Jimenez was making his first start in a month; Pearce has morphed from a bit player to a key starter; and Jimmy Paredes didn't join the team until Aug. 28.
Pearce provided the Orioles with the lead for good with a three-run drive off Drew Hutchison (10-12) in the first inning. He has 18 home runs this year, one more than he had in 290 games as a part-timer from 2007-13.
Paredes hit a solo shot in the second to make it 4-2. It was his second homer in 10 games with Baltimore.
In addition, newcomer Alejandro De Aza hit a three-run triple in the seventh for a 7-2 lead. De Aza came to the Orioles in an Aug. 30 trade with the Chicago White Sox.
"It says a lot about the way these guys can come in and perform," Duquette said. "They're good baseball players."
Jimenez (5-9) survived a rocky start to limit the Blue Jays to two runs and two hits over five innings in his third start since July 5.
After signing a $50 million, four-year deal in the offseason, Jimenez struggled with his control for much of the season, sprained his ankle in a parking lot before the All-Star break and ultimately lost his place in the rotation.
Pressed into service because the Orioles played a doubleheader Friday, Jimenez issued four walks in the first two innings. But he bounced back to retire his last 10 batters.
"I had to find a way to be there for the team," Jimenez said. "After the start, I was able to do everything good."
In the other clubhouse, the Blue Jays bemoaned their role at the catalyst to the celebration.
"Watching what we had to watch was probably the worst thing you can experience as a player," Hutchison said. "It's something you never want to have to experience again. We have some games left here. We know what the odds are. We just have to win as much as we can. We still have a lot to play for with our pride."
Blue Jays: Steve Tolleson was available off the bench after being hit on the arm by teammate Munenori Kawasaki's foul ball while sitting in the dugout the previous night. "We got lucky," manager John Gibbons said.
Orioles: RHP Steve Johnson will have surgery to have a bone spur removed from the back of his right shoulder later this month and should be ready for 2015 spring training. He did not pitch for Baltimore this year.
Bud Norris (13-8) brings a 7-1 record against AL East foes into a matchup with Toronto lefty J.A. Happ in the series finale.