AP Sports Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) _ Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles
will get another chance to overtake the New York Yankees.
The surprising O’s have already beaten some big odds, getting
past the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers and their
Japanese ace, Yu Darvish, in the win-or-go-home wild-card playoff.
Joe Saunders pitched effectively into the sixth inning at a
place where he had never won, Adam Jones delivered the tiebreaking
sacrifice fly and the Orioles, in the playoffs for the first time
in 15 years, eliminated the Rangers 5-1 Friday night.
“With our team it’s just a bunch of guys that raised the bar
and wouldn’t give in and still haven’t. Now they get a chance to
win to roll the dice, and there’s a lot of good card players in
there,” said Showalter, their manager.
The Orioles advanced to play the East champion Yankees, the AL’s
top seed _ the teams split 18 games this season. The best-of-five
division series starts Sunday at Camden Yards.
The upstart Orioles spent the whole second half chasing New
York, never passing them and falling just short in a neck-and-neck
race for the division title.
Turns out, the Yankees haven’t brushed off these Birds just yet.
“Real proud of everybody. Tacking on runs were big, knew they
were going to run at you,” Showalter said. “But just a real proud
moment for us.”
“Our guys approached it and we talked about it being sudden
life instead of sudden death, and we played that way. You’ve got to
seize the opportunity. We don’t get many,” he said.
After twice coming with a strike of winning last year’s World
Series, this season is over that quickly for the Rangers, who were
in first place for a majors-high 178 days this season. Texas loaded
the bases with two outs in the ninth before David Murphy flied out
to end it.
“We just didn’t get it done,” manager Ron Washington said.
The Rangers lost the AL West crown on the final day of the
regular season, after being swept in three games at Oakland for a
stretch of nine losses their last 13 games.
“I’m not stunned, I was right there watching it,” Washington
Their worst slump of the season came at the wrong time for
Texas, which a week ago had a four-game division lead with six
games to play. Because of that, they couldn’t avoid the majors’ new
winner-take-all postseason openers, and then couldn’t get past
their Orioles with their top pitcher on the mound.
“To be honest with you I never thought anything like this would
happen,” Washington said.
Wiped out by San Francisco in the 2010 World Series, the Rangers
twice came within a strike of their first World Series championship
last October against St. Louis.
When the Rangers committed more than $107 million last winter to
acquire Darvish, they did so with the anticipation he’d be on the
mound for many big games.
“Me and my teammates and the Rangers’ fans, I don’t think we
all thought that it would end this early,” Darvish said through a
translator. “I mean, right now, no. I don’t even know what I’m
supposed to do tomorrow.”
They never would have expected him being outdueled in a playoff
game by Saunders, a late-season addition by the Orioles who had
lost all six of his previous starts with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers
“Our main job tonight was be as calm as we could and not try to
do too much,” Saunders said. “I think we did that to the best. We
just clawed and scratched our way to a couple runs and played great
Saunders quickly gave up the Orioles’ 1-0 lead in the first, but
that was the only run he allowed in 5 2-3 innings. The left-hander
struck out four and walked one.
“I love being the underdog. To knock off the defending two-time
champs from the past couple of years is pretty amazing, I think,”
he said.
Even though it was the postseason, the Orioles stuck to the
regular Friday night uniforms _ including black tops and caps with
script O’s instead of the traditional smiling cartoon bird.
Four pitches into the game, they led against Darvish, who struck
out seven in 6 2-3 innings.
Nate McLouth grounded Darvish’s first pitch toward first baseman
Michael Young. The longest-tenured Rangers player got charged with
an error when he tried to backhand the ball, which ricocheted off
the heel of his glove and away from him.
McLouth stole second base on the third pitch. J.J. Hardy then
drove him in by grounding a hard single up the middle _ the Orioles
had only one more hit until a sequence in the sixth that needed
some interpretation.
The O’s had consecutive singles to start the sixth before Jones’
sacrifice fly made it 2-1.
After backing up the plate when Jones hit the ball in the air,
Darvish started stretching his shoulder and rolling his neck.
Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux went out to the mound to
try to figure out what was wrong when their pitcher still looked
Darvish’s translator, Joe Furukawa, was also on his way out
before initially being waved back by umpires. The six umpires then
conferred before allowing the translator to come out while Darvish
kept stretching and then threw a couple of pitches. Darvish said he
had a cramp in the muscle on the top of his shoulder.
Darvish finished the sixth with a strikeout, and started the
seventh with another, before Ryan Flaherty’s single and a sac bunt
by Manny Machado. Derek Holland took over and gave up an RBI single
by McLouth for a 3-1 lead.
Even though he was a rookie in the majors, the 26-year-old
Darvish was 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA and five complete games in 11
postseason starts for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from
McLouth added a sacrifice fly in the ninth, when the Orioles
scored twice against Rangers closer Joe Nathan.
Jim Johnson, who set an Orioles record with 51 saves, allowed a
walk and two hits, including a two-out pinch single by 19-year-old
Jurickson Profar, before Murphy’s game-ending flyball to left.
Saunders, who was with Arizona until the end of August,
benefited from three double-play grounders and some bad swings by
slugger Josh Hamilton, the former AL MVP and free-agent-to-be who
might have played his last home game in a Texas uniform.
Hamilton was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, both on three pitches,
including with a runner at second base to end the eighth. He swung
at the first pitch his other at-bats _ grounding in a double play
in the first that did send home Texas’ only run, and hit a
comebacker to start the sixth.
Even if a second wild card hadn’t been added this year, the
Orioles and Rangers would have been playing a winner-take-all game
since both had 93 wins in the regular season.
Under the old playoff rules, they would have met in a 163rd
regular-season game the next day to determine the only wild card,
with the winner hitting the road to open the division series.
With the new format, it was a postseason game after an extra day
_ when Washington gave his team off after being swept in Oakland
and losing the AL West crown on the regular season’s final day.
The new rules also eliminated the prohibition against teams from
the same division meeting in the ALDS, setting up the Orioles and
For the Rangers, they’re headed into their longest offseason in
three years.
NOTES: Orioles 1B Mark Reynolds got hit on his right hand by a
pitch in the second. He then stole second, matching his stolen base
total from the regular season before getting stranded there. …
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by 86-year-old Sister Frances
Evans, a longtime Rangers fan who was escorted by Nolan Ryan to a
spot a few feet in front of the plate. She wound up and threw to
former Rangers catcher Jim Sundberg.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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