The game is bigger in Texas

TAMPA - The Orioles really wanted a home game. Flying to Dallas wasn’t their first or second choice.

They’ll have to win a wild card game before they can get back to Camden Yards. If it’s any consolation, the Rangers aren’t thrilled about it, either.

Jim Thome actually appeared in the last playoff game at Camden Yards as a member of the 1997 Cleveland Indians. He knows all about the electric atmosphere.

“Fun,” he said. “Baltimore is a great baseball town and I’ve experienced it from the other side. When you haven’t been there in a while, I think the city is thirsting for a championship. And it’s fun to be on their side right now. Hey, let them have it. We’ll be there.”

It would help if the Orioles stopped giving up home runs in bunches to one player. Four to Josh Hamilton, three to Adrian Beltre, three to Evan Longoria.

The Orioles are 2-5 against the Rangers this season, including 1-2 in Arlington, and have been outscored 56-24. The Rays’ pitching put their offense in a huge funk, and now they get Yu Darvish for the first time.

Darvish is 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191 1/3 innings. I had a Rookie of the Year vote in the American League, and while I’m not allowed to reveal my three picks until the winner is announced, let’s just say Darvish earned serious consideration on my ballot.

Darvish posted a 5.74 ERA in July and a 5.29 ERA in August, but he went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in five September starts.

Now the Orioles will find out what he can do in October. And so will the Rangers, since he’s a rookie in the U.S.

“It’s obvious from what they were willing to commit to him, they really liked the return,” said manager Buck Showalter. “We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Left-hander Joe Saunders could start Friday on normal rest, but he’s 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA in 11 career starts against the Rangers, and 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Texas, with 41 hits allowed, 16 walks and 13 home runs in 31 2/3 innings. I’m certain that Showalter can recite the stats. There’s no doubt that he’s reviewed them, which is why he also mentioned rookie Steve Johnson as an option.

Johnson faced the Rangers once in relief, allowing a run in one inning.

Either way, the leash has to be relatively short in a must-win game. There will be enough relief options, no matter how the wild card roster is constructed.

Keep in mind that they could drop starters who wouldn’t be available, such as Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen, then add them if the club advances to the Division Series. That’s one of the perks of a one-game wild card “series.”

I’ve got a 7 a.m. flight to Dallas and will report back later. The Oriole will hold a workout in the afternoon, after the Rangers are finished. There’s lot more to come, so stay tuned.

I’ll close by passing along a tweet from A’s reliever Pat Neshek, who was in spring training with the Orioles, pitched at Triple-A Norfolk this summer and is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I’m sure the A’s will take the field with heavy hearts for their Division Series game:

“Please pray for my family. Tonight my wife & I lost our first & only son 23 hours after he was born with no explanation.”

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