By Childs Walker and Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
10:45 PM CDT, October 3, 2012
The Orioles have known since Sunday night that they were playoff-bound. On Wednesday night, they finally learned whom they'll play.
The club will begin its first postseason in 15 years at 8:37 p.m. Friday in Arlington, Texas, where the Orioles will have to win a wild-card game against the Rangers to keep their season alive.
If the Orioles win Friday night, they'll begin the American League Division Series at home Sunday against the New York Yankees.
The Orioles cost themselves home-field advantage in the wild-card round with a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, surrendering three home runs to third baseman Evan Longoria.
The Orioles will face a Rangers team that lost seven of its last nine regular-season games to forfeit a once-substantial lead in the AL West. But Texas, which has been to the past two World Series, won five of seven against the Orioles this season.
As it turned out, the Orioles could not have forced an AL East tiebreaker even with a victory because the Yankees pummeled the Boston Red Sox, 14-2, on Wednesday night.
The night's developments didn't unfold as Orioles fans had hoped.
Ethan Vidal, 24, a Severna Park native who recently moved from Fells Point to Miami and was in town watching the game at Pickles Pub near Oriole Park, was hoping for an Orioles win and a Yankees loss, which would have led to a one-game playoff between the teams tonight at Camden Yards.
“That would have been an awesome way to start the weekend, an awesome way to end the season,” he said.
But even though that didn't work out, Vidal sees the season as a success.
“This is only bringing more attention to Baltimore on the national stage,” he said. “Everyone's tired of hearing about the Yankees and Red Sox and the big-money teams. People are excited for Baltimore.
“No matter what happens this year, this year wasn't expected. It came as a surprise, but it's going to carry into next year. There's going to be so much more enthusiasm.”
Brian Miles, 27, a Columbia native who lives in Canton, was happy to at least be watching a meaningful game.
“Just last week, I realized I don't even remember the Orioles being relevant in September,” said Miles, who also watched at Pickles. “It's single-handedly the most I've talked about the Orioles in September cumulatively in 15 years.”
A group of Ridgely's Delight Association members had gathered at Pickles to have a quick meeting and then watch the game.
Chris Conlon, president of the community association, said he grew up as an Army brat, but his dad took him to an Orioles game when he was 5 years old. As his family moved from post to post, he kept up with the team. Conlon moved in 2001 to Ridgely's Delight, he said, “to be close to the Orioles, and it's taken this long to get to the playoffs.”
“The season's been so magical, while tonight's a little disappointing, I hope it's still alive,” Conlon said.
Karin Lundquist, another member of the association, said of Wednesday's loss: “I think it's OK. We're still proud of them.”
Robert Lapin, another group member, said he graduated from Mount St. Joseph in 1997, so he had good memories of that year's team with his high school buddies. After high school, Lapin went into the Army for six years, then did contract work. He returned from Iraq as a civilian in 2010.
Because of the Orioles' success this season, he has gotten back in touch with his friends from high school, whom he had lost contact with.
“We've rekindled our relationships after 15 years just because of the Orioles,” he said. “They talk about Orioles Magic — that's the magic.”
Even one Yankee fan has a bit of Orioles fever.
Chris Haynes, a Yankees fan from New York who wasn't a part of the Ridgely's Delight group, said he has been in Maryland for 10 years and would like to see the Orioles win the World Series this year. “They deserve it,” he said. “I love that they're doing great. You can print that. I'll fight my fellow New Yorkers.
“The [Orioles are] better off going into the wild-card spot. It'll make it a better story, underdogs and all.”
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, like his team's fans, would have preferred that the wild-card game be played at home.
“I know some people in Baltimore are frustrated. We wanted Camden Yards rocking. I hope everybody in Baltimore, you go out to the bars, you go out to wherever you're going to watch the game,” he said after Wednesday's game. “If you're coming to Texas, I'm pretty sure there's a lot of people coming to Texas. We need the support. Of course, we want to host a game at Camden Yards, but we have a game in Texas on Friday that we really need to host a game at Camden.”
Added right fielder Chris Davis: “We would definitely like to be at home. Obviously, we'd like to be playing as many games at home as we can.”
If the Orioles beat the Rangers, they would play the Yankees in a best-of-five Division Series, with the first two games at Camden Yards on Sunday and Monday and the last three scheduled for Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, next Thursday and Friday, Oct.12.
In a season defined by extra-inning victories, it seemed only appropriate that the Orioles had to wait until the end of the final day to learn their postseason fate. Going into Wednesday, they faced a mind-bending array of possibilities involving three of the other four teams in the AL playoffs.
If they had won and the Yankees had lost, they would have played a divisional tiebreaker in Baltimore tonight and then, depending on the outcome of that game, faced the possibility of a wild-card game in Baltimore on Friday. If they and the Yankees had both won Wednesday, the Orioles would have hosted either the Rangers or the Oakland Athletics on Friday for the wild-card game. If the Orioles had lost Wednesday, they would have traveled to either Texas or Oakland for the Friday game.
Got all that?
Commissioner Bud Selig added a second wild-card team to each league's playoff picture at the beginning of this season, hoping to create hope for more teams and more excitement at the end of the regular season.
Though it was mostly clear at the beginning of the week which teams would be in the playoffs, the possible matchups remained a fascinating brain-teaser for fans. And there was real incentive for teams to win their divisions and avoid the one-game crucible of the wild-card round.
Still, just getting into the postseason is exciting for the Orioles.
“They're looking forward to the opportunity and heading down to Texas and playing,” manager Buck Showalter said of his players after the game. “It's a tough road however you do it. It's a challenge. We feel real good about the opportunity that we have earned by being one of the five [AL] teams left.”
The Orioles have already succeeded beyond most fans' wildest expectations. They were 69-93 last season, with only one winning month. And in the offseason, they changed top baseball executives again, hiring Dan Duquette, who had been out of the major leagues for almost 10 years. Most Orioles watchers regarded a 15th straight losing season as a near-certainty.
Instead, the club jumped to a quick start, remained above .500 through the summer and played its best baseball of the season in the last two months, the time when so many recent Orioles teams collapsed.
These Orioles have seemed impregnable in one-run and extra-inning games and have been able to patch any hole, sometimes with a sensational rookie such as third baseman Manny Machado, sometimes with reclamation projects such as left fielder Nate McLouth and starter Miguel Gonzalez.
As a reward, the Orioles reversed their record, finishing 93-69, and will play in the postseason for the first time since 1997, when they fell two agonizing games short of the World Series.
“The world is watching,” Jones said about the playoffs. “You're on the biggest stage. This is the position we put ourselves in. We had a really good regular season and we're fortunate enough to be extending our regular season and it's the situation we put ourselves in. We've got no choice. We've got to go out there and play the game. ... We're happy to be in that situation. We're just glad for the opportunity.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Eduardo A. Encina and Peter Schmuck contributed to this article from St. Petersburg, Fla.