He did his part.
Saunders picked up his third win, allowing three runs in 7 1/3 innings and receiving a huge ovation as he walked off the field.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I’m very humbled to get the opportunity to do this, and to be able to come out and get a victory for the ballclub was pretty special.
“You always want to set the tone early, especially against a good lineup, so I just told myself, ‘Just get out there, get as many outs as you can, go deep and give your team a chance to win.’ And we’re fortunate enough that we came out with a victory.”
Saunders is 18-10 in 39 career September starts.
“In my opinion, September is a whole other season in itself,” he said. “It’s crunch time, especially if you’re in a race, and it’s time to get down to business. I’ve always tried to pride myself in stepping up in that situation and doing the best I can.”
Saunders tipped his cap to the crowd after striking out Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the eighth and being replaced by Darren O’Day.
“It was special. It was really special,” he said. “I knew when (manager Buck Showalter) said I wasn’t done after seven that I had one more batter, so I just tried to do everything I could to get Ellsbury out. And he’s a great hitter. I was fortunate enough that he missed that one on 3-2 and I kind of knew that was my last shindig in this game, and let Darren take care of business. It was a special moment for me, especially growing up here.”
The Orioles stayed on the field and watched the Angels-Rangers game on the video screen. They filed into the clubhouse after Torii Hunter stroked a two-out, two-run double, their hopes of clinching today put on ice like their champagne.
The plastic on the lockers was lifted up so players could change clothes.
“We came back in here and it was really awkward,” Saunders said. “It’s always weird when you’re watching other teams try to win and you kind of want to do it on your own terms, so hopefully things work out and we can do it either tomorrow, Tuesday or Wednesday.
“It was just really weird because you want to do it on your own terms. You don’t want to try to rely on other teams helping you out. If we take care of business in Tampa Bay, and against a really good team and a really good pitching staff, we’re going to earn this and it will be on our terms.”
Steve Johnson will undergo an MRI on his left knee Monday in Tampa or Sarasota. Nick Markakis will have the pins removed from his left thumb, and Wilson Betemit will have his right wrist examined as the Orioles try to determine whether he could be available for the postseason.