Joe Saunders and the bullpen pitch the Orioles to a wild card victory

The veteran pitcher, who in the minds of some, was a very controversial choice to pitch tonight, got the job done for the Orioles. Joe Saunders, ignoring his poor career stats vs. Texas, held the Rangers to just one run in a very gutty effort as the Orioles beat Texas 5-1 in the AL wild card game.

With this win, in their first playoff game since 1997, the Orioles now advance to meet the Yankees in the American League Division Series. The O’s host Game 1 Sunday night at 6:15 p.m. at Camden Yards and Game 2 on Monday night at 8:07 p.m.

The Orioles eliminated the two-time defending AL champions, who had lost nine of their last 13 regular season games.

Saunders gave up just one run and six hits over 5 2/3 innings. He walked one and fanned four, throwing 77 pitches. Counting his last six regular season appearances, Saunders has worked to an ERA of 2.60 over his last seven O’s starts.

The Rangers went 0-for-3 batting with runners in scoring position against him.

Saunders entered this start with a career record of 0-6 and ERA of 9.38 in six career starts in Texas. But he had allowed just one run over seven innings in his most recent start at Texas and picked up tonight where he left off in that outing on July 23, 2010.

The Orioles’ bullpen, as it had all year, got the job done again tonight. Darren O’Day came on to get six very big outs and Brian Matusz fanned Josh Hamilton with a man on second to end the last of the eighth. Hamilton is now 0-for-10 in his career vs. Matusz.

The Rangers loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against Jim Johnson, but he got David Murphy to fly out to end the game and the drama.

The Orioles scored to take the lead just two batters into the game. Nate McLouth, leading off, reached on an error by first baseman Michael Young and he quickly stole second. He scored on J.J. Hardy’s RBI single for a 1-0 lead.

The Rangers quickly put runners on first and third two batters into the last of the first. A run scored, but Saunders minimized the damage when Hamilton hit into a double play.

The Orioles went ahead 2-1 in the sixth when Hardy and Chris Davis led off with singles to put runners at the corners. An Adam Jones sac fly gave the O’s the lead. Jones had just one RBI in the last nine regular-season games but that was a big one to give the Orioles the lead.

McLouth drove in the O’s third run with an RBI single in the seventh, scoring Ryan Flaherty who had singled off Darvish with one out.

The O’s added two big insurance runs in the ninth on a Manny Machado RBI single and McLouth’s sac fly that scored Robert Andino, who doubled. McLouth had a two-RBI game and also scored a run.

The Orioles beat Yu Darvish, who was 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in September. He gave up three runs (two earned) and five hits over 6 2/3 innings. This was the first time the O’s ever faced him.

So the Orioles went on the road and knocked off the Rangers tonight. Now they have the Yankees in their sights.

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