Orioles clinch first division title since 2014 (updated)

The wait is over.

For the last magic number to hit zero. For the first American League East championship since 2014. For the Rays to accept their wild card fate.

Pop those corks again.

Anthony Santander homered in the first inning, his fly ball traveling 405 feet to left field and clearing the wall. The crowd roared. Dean Kremer tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Pinch-hitter Heston Kjerstad dumped a double into left field that scored Adam Frazier in the eighth.

The ballpark kept getting louder, reaching its peak volume when Trevor Story grounded out against Tyler Wells to seal the Orioles’ 2-0 victory over the Red Sox before an announced crowd of 27,543. The 11th shutout of the season. The latest reason for the city to embrace its team and not let go.

Wells had his first save in two years, and he disappeared in the mass of bodies that charged out of the dugout. Among the players abandoning their positions and releasing emotions that they kept contained until the appropriate time.

Catcher James McCann wrapped his arms around Wells and lifted him off the ground. The first of many tight embraces.

The handshake line was a hug line.

"It was hard because I couldn't see his face. He had his mask on," Wells said, orange division championship T-shirt clinging to him, after making his fourth relief appearance.

"You kind of black out. You just realize you clinched the AL East and that's one of the best moments of my life, especially my baseball career. I think that's probably on top of it. I'm going to forever cherish this, and unbelievable grateful for it."

"I was filled with anxiety," said Adley Rutschman, who served as designated hitter. "I was so anxious in the dugout, just so excited watching Wellsy go out there and do this thing."

Manager Brandon Hyde waited, a bottle of champagne in one hand and a tall can of beer in the other, until players circled him in the clubhouse. His latest speech.

"Nobody gave us a chance at the start of this year. Nobody," he yelled. "That's a hundred wins right there. We just won the AL East.

"Let's go!"

The drenching commenced. Cigars were lit, as well as the atmosphere. The homer hose made a late appearance.

The scene wasn't quite as wild as the playoff clincher, eventually calming to where it seemed more like a gathering at Happy Hour. But with everyone wearing what they drank.

"I just think this team is resilient, this team wants to win day in and day out," said outfielder Aaron Hicks. "This team is together, they're a unit and prepared to win every single day. And it's one of the main things I love about this team."

Kremer didn’t allow a hit until Story’s leadoff single in the fifth, retiring 12 of 13 batters. Connor Wong hit a routine grounder leading off the sixth that shortstop Jorge Mateo misplayed, and Rafael Devers singled with one out to put runners on the corners.

DL Hall was summoned with Kremer at 88 pitches. He struck out pinch-hitter Adam Duvall and coaxed a ground ball out of Alex Verdugo. Hall retired all five batters he faced.

Yennier Cano was handed the eighth, retired two batters and exited with Connor Wong on first base and Devers coming up. Cionel Pérez, on a left-on-left matchup, got Devers to ground to first baseman Ryan O’Hearn after Wong stole second base.

Kremer struck out eight batters and lowered his ERA to 4.12. He had allowed nine earned runs and 12 total this month in 17 1/3 innings, hurting his chances of staying in the rotation for the Division Series, but tonight brought the previous version of Kremer, who also started the playoff clincher.

Most guys don't get to experience one.

"I've been fortunate enough to be put in that situation," he said. "Just trying to make the most of it."

The Orioles are 16-3 in Kremer's starts this season and have won the last 10.

"It was a tight game all the way through," he said. "So just trying to put at-bat after at-bat together."

The sweepless streak grows to 91 series, which carries into next year. The Orioles also crafted their second streak this season of five straight games allowing one run or fewer.

The Orioles attained 100 wins for the first time since 1980 and they have three games left before the playoffs. They went 102-57 in 1979.

The 109 wins in 1969 and 108 the following year remain out of reach. Little else does with this year’s team.

"There's a reason these guys are in first place," Nationals starter Patrick Corbin said last night. "They're a good team. They do the little things really well. It is a tough lineup.”

It’s a team that won the division for the 10th time and the fourth at home, also celebrating in Baltimore in 1969, 1979 and 2014. The ’97 club lost that night.

"It's been night and day since I got here, from every department," said Kremer, who came to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers in 2018. "Mike (Elias) and his team have done a tremendous job of putting together a squad that will perform out on the field. I think we're a little earlier than they had expected, but we're here."

Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale used to cause trouble for the Orioles, but in three starts before tonight, he allowed 18 earned runs and 19 total with 22 hits in 12 innings. Santander crushed a fastball for his 28th homer, tying Gunnar Henderson for the team lead. He also has 41 doubles and 93 RBIs.

Mateo singled with one out in the third, dived into second base on a steal attempt as Austin Hays flied to right, and was called out after retreating because he didn’t step on second base. Seconds later, after the Orioles lost the challenge, the team announced on the video board that an agreement was reached on a new 30-year stadium lease.

As if the crowd needed more reasons to erupt. The ovation didn’t die down quickly. The atmosphere was charged, from the first pitch to the last.

"It kind of gives them a preview of what it's going to be like in the postseason," Hicks said. "It's truly amazing."

"I started laughing," Rutschman said. "I think it was on (Santander), he swung and missed on a ball and the whole crowd went, 'aw.' And it was the loudest 'aw' I ever heard, and I thought it was the funniest thing. It was so cool to see everyone that into it, that invested."

"If we could pack that out every night, we'd be the most grateful group of players," Kremer said. "I've heard that this is quite the baseball community and a lot of nights we've seen that. It's a special city."

Angelos was in the clubhouse but unavailable for comment. He eventually got soaked in champagne and beer, the instigators including Frazier, Rutschman and Hicks, and he leaned in for a hug with Elias.

"I was thinking, you look way back in the history, there's been some pretty big nights," Elias said. "But just where we were in 2018, to have a night like this - 100 wins, American League East, John Angelos and Governor Moore on the board announcing 30-plus more years here, it's got to be one of the best nights in Orioles history, if not the best. Great night for the region, for the state, for the city.

"John started from a pretty tough spot there in 2018. A lot of issues at the franchise level that he's had to navigate. The pandemic. He brought our group in, he empowered us, and now we've got one of the best organizations in baseball. For him to have a night like this that culminated is pretty cool. I look forward to the future."

Sale was invigorated in the present. The Orioles couldn’t get anything else against him besides the Santander homer through five innings. He was removed at 69 pitches and replaced by Josh Winckowski.

Frazier drew a leadoff walk against Zack Kelly in the eighth and moved up on a ground ball. Kjerstad, batting for Mateo, lifted a fly ball to left that touched the grass. Frazier rounded third without pause, coach Tony Mansolino sending him after determining that the ball wouldn't be handled cleanly. The insurance run that eluded the Orioles since the first.

Veterans who didn’t let the rebuild break them tore through the bottles stuffed in carts filled with ice. Contents dumped over heads or sprayed in every direction. Grown men acting like kids. Age isn’t important.

“That much losing, it kind of wears on you a little bit,” John Means, who starts Friday night, said this afternoon. “To be a part of a winning clubhouse, there’s nothing like it. You just want it so bad, and to finally be here, it feels special.”

The 2021 Orioles lost 110 games. They weren’t supposed to be sitting atop their division two years later, owning the best record in the American League.

Trust the process.

“I knew what we had,” Means said. “I knew what the goal was, and we were making all the right moves. Maybe at this level it was hard to see, but I think when you look down at the lower levels, you saw what was coming and what we were ready for. I’m not surprised, to be honest, but to be here now, it’s so special."

Since their last World Series championship in 1983, the Orioles owned the fewest division titles in the American League with only two. The Mariners are the only AL team with a longer division championship drought at 21 seasons.

The Orioles ended theirs tonight at eight years. Kick dirt over it. Drown it in bubbly.

"I think our guys believed in each other, believed that we could be here," Rutschman said, "and we just fought every single day to get to this moment."

"When I first came up, it was tough," said first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, "and for us to be here right now is surreal and super exciting."

Said Hyde, after leaving the clubhouse for his post-game media session in a drier climate: "We won 83 games last year and that was kind of the message in spring training. We’re going to build off this 83. And we’re not surprising the teams anymore. People knew how talented we were. But nobody was giving us a chance to win. It was in every publication everywhere, that we’re going to regress.

"I wanted our guys to know that. They took it personal. And we just won 100 in the AL East.”

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