Orioles magic number is one to clinch division after 5-1 win (updated)

One more night.

Maybe that’s how much longer the Orioles must wait to clinch the American League East for the first time since 2014.

A night when they don’t need anyone’s help.

Adley Rutschman homered, singled and drove in three runs, the bullpen retired all 10 batters behind starter Grayson Rodriguez, and the Orioles won 5-1 before an announced crowd of 24,278 at Camden Yards.

Tampa Bay defeated the Red Sox 5-0 to leave the magic number at one, and fans checking on ticket availability for Thursday night.

"It's very exciting," said manager Brandon Hyde. "We're looking forward to coming to the ballpark tomorrow, and hopefully we can do something special tomorrow."

The Rays are off while the Orioles (99-59) begin a four-game series against the Red Sox to close out the regular season. The only way they don't clinch is if they get swept, which hasn't happened since May 2022.

"It's pretty exciting," Rodriguez said. "We're taking it day by day. Not really looking at that. We're going to go out tomorrow and try to win a game, and if that happens, then it happens. But yeah, we're still taking it day by day."

"It was good to get the win today, but tomorrow's a new day, got to go out and get it," Rutschman said. "Everyone's excited, but tomorrow, just the same thing as it always is. Another game, keep going with the process."

Any peeking at the out-of-town scoreboard? Rutschman couldn't conceal his grin.

"I mean, a little bit," he said. "You know, just to see."

The 99 victories are the most since the 1980 team went 100-62. They moved 40 games above .500 for the first time since the conclusion of the 1979 season. Their sweep total rose to 10.

"We're playing in the toughest division in sports, and to lose 110 two years ago and have a chance to win 100 now, it says a lot about those guys in that room," Hyde said. "They've learned to battle and fight and grind and beat good teams. In just two years to be able to do what they're doing is amazing."

Jordan Westburg reached on an infield hit and James McCann had a bloop single with one out in the second, but the Orioles couldn’t score against left-hander Patrick Corbin. They’d wait one more inning. And they’d stay ahead.

Austin Hays led off the third with a walk and Rutschman launched a 1-2 fastball into the bullpen for his 20th home run, the most by an Orioles primary catcher since Welington Castillo in 2017, per STATS. Rutschman has hit 11 as the designated hitter.

Other Orioles catchers with 20-plus home runs include Matt Wieters (three times), Ramón Hernández, Javy López, Charles Johnson, Chris Hoiles (three times), Mickey Tettleton, Earl Williams and Gus Triandos (three times).  

Rutschman began the night slashing .294/.409/.458 against left-handers, compared to .174/.287/.265 last summer. He also was a better hitter from the right side in the minors, making 2022 an anomaly.

"He's a good hitter from both sides," Hyde said.

"I feel like I probably looked at it differently than other people did," Rutschman said. "I always thought that I believed that I could do it, and last year I didn't feel quite right right-handed, but I feel pretty good now and was able to make some good adjustments. And I think it's shown pretty decently this year."

Place some blame on the triceps injury last spring.

"I think that's probably a little bit of a factor," he said, "just kind of extending that right arm and feeling really comfortable getting in tight and working through to the opposite field and staying on the ball a long time."

Jorge Mateo began the fifth with a walk, advanced on a passed ball and his 30th stolen base and scored on Rutschman’s one-out single. The Orioles loaded the bases and Gunnar Henderson hit a slow roller up the third base line that Corbin fielded and flipped to catcher Keibert Ruiz for the force.

Barreling toward his 15th loss, Corbin walked Westburg to force in a run and force his exit from the game.

Cedric Mullins doubled off Andrés Machado leading off the sixth and scored on Hays’ single. Mateo had a sacrifice bunt as part of his small-ball night.

"Jorgie changes the game," Hyde said. "He gets on base, he scores. He's got game-changing speed, he disrupts. ... How he can steal bases. He scored that one run by himself."

Hays reached base four times, including a hit-by-pitch in the eighth, when the Orioles loaded the bases and didn't score.

Rodriguez threw 87 pitches in 5 2/3 innings and was replaced by Danny Coulombe with two runners on base, the Orioles leading 4-1 and left-handed hitter Luis García due up. Carter Keiboom pinch-hit and popped up.

Rodriguez scattered six hits, walked none and struck out five in his final start of the regular season. His ERA dropped to 4.35, including 2.58 in the second half.

"Slider was a little bit better," he said. "I was glad to get some punchouts on it. That's something I've been working on and we're going to start throwing a lot more of."

The next start happens in the playoffs.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "I've never been to a big league postseason game before. I've always just watched them on TV, so pitching in one or sitting in the dugout is going to be pretty special."

The Nationals were shut out in the first three games against the Orioles and didn’t threaten Rodriguez until the top of the fifth.  

Eleven in a row were retired before Dominic Smith doubled with one out, only the second hit off Rodriguez. Jake Alu singled with two outs to cut the lead to 2-1.

Coulombe retired all four batters he faced and Jacob Webb plowed through the Nationals in the eighth, striking out two batters. Tyler Wells struck out the first two batters in the ninth and got a ground ball.

The 'pen is fresher, and it shows.

"I think you saw from all three of those guys how much different they are just in general, guys get days off, and they've had them," Hyde said. "Everybody threw the ball great tonight."

"Our starters have really given us a nice buffer and it gave the bullpen a break, which has been huge," Rutschman said. "Seventeen games in a row is a lot and I know a lot of guys were called upon quite a bit, so definitely good and our starters have really stepped up."

The plastic could be unrolled Thursday, more champagne and beer on ice.

One more night, perhaps.

"It's kind of in our own hands right now," Hyde said, "and so, that's a lot of fun."

* Triple-A Norfolk evened its best-of-three series against Durham in the International League championship series with a 7-2 win.

Coby Mayo and Kyle Stowers hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning. Joey Ortiz had a two-run single in the fifth and an RBI double in the seventh. Two more runs scored on wild pitches in the sixth.

Stowers also doubled and tripled. Jackson Holliday had a single and double.

Cole Irvin tossed three scoreless innings with two hits, no walks and five strikeouts. Austin Voth struck out nine batters and allowed two hits in four scoreless innings. Bryan Baker allowed two runs (one earned) in the eighth.

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