CLEVELAND – The Orioles are done with the road until the playoffs, finishing their last regular season trip today by splitting a four-game series against the Guardians.
They only way they’d stay off the team charter next month would be to lose the wild card series at Camden Yards.
They want the division and the bye that comes with it. They need it.
Their magic number for clinching is down to three following a 5-1 victory before an announced crowd of 20,287 at Progressive Field. The Rays lost 9-5 to the Blue Jays.
The Orioles pushed their division lead to 2 ½ games and they own the tiebreaker.
"Look forward to an off-day tomorrow. Let's do that first," said manager Brandon Hyde.
"Just excited about how our club is playing. We're fun to watch. The clubhouse is extremely loose and they're having a lot of fun, so looking forward to next week."
"I think anytime you inch closer, you're getting excited," said Kyle Gibson, who registered his 17th quality start. "This is a team that's really looking forward to it, and I think if we just keep taking care of business, it will be a whole lot of fun here coming up."
The Guardians activated Triston McKenzie from the 60-day injured list this morning to make his third start, and first since June, and he walked a career-high six batters in 1 2/3 innings. Only 19 of his 52 pitches were strikes, and he allowed three runs with only one hit.
Jordan Westburg had an RBI double in the second, Jorge Mateo delivered a run with a ground ball, and McKenzie walked Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander in succession. Santander has six RBIs in the last three games.
McKenzie has made three career starts against the Orioles and gone 0-3 with 10 runs allowed in 13 2/3 innings.
"I've seen him a lot better," Hyde said. "He's coming back off injury and wasn't himself, so we got fortunate with that a little bit. Obviously, didn't have the command that he normally does. But we did a good job waiting him out."
Gibson allowed one run and five hits over seven-plus innings and 95 pitches, and the Orioles upped their overall record to 97-59, the most wins since the 1997 team finished with 98. They’ve gone 52-29 on the road, tops in the American League and tying the 1997 club for most victories and best winning percentage.
The improvement from past years is striking.
The Orioles were 38-43 away from home in 2022, 25-56 in 2021 and 29-52 in 2019 – the other full seasons under Hyde. They were 19-62 on the road in 2018.
“It just shows professionalism and consistency in that clubhouse and guys come ready to play,” Hyde said earlier today. “Played in some tough environments, so really happy. Our road record is absolutely excellent.”
"Sometimes, those streaks and those numbers can be a little kooky and you never really know," Gibson said. "Honestly, if I could point to one thing, I think we're a really consistent team that shows up no matter where we are and plays good baseball. We do the little things right, and when you do the little things right, especially on the road, that's a recipe for success."
Mateo and Rutschman doubled off Eli Morgan in the fourth, the latter in a 10-pitch at-bat. Pinch-hitter Aaron Hicks led off the fifth with an infield hit, Austin Hays walked and Cedric Mullins halted an 0-for-18 skid with an RBI single for a 5-1 lead.
Rutschman also doubled in the sixth and reached base four times.
Gibson allowed a run in the bottom of the fourth on José Ramírez’s leadoff double and ground balls from Josh Naylor and Kole Calhoun. He improved to 15-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 187 innings.
"He had a good sinker, threw the slider, changeup," Hyde said. "It was a tough lineup for him. They had seven lefties in the lineup against him, and moved the ball around extremely well."
"He was able to use all his pitches, move his two-seamer around," Rutschman said. "Slider, changeup were working. He looked really good.
"He's been huge, both as a player, as a leader, a guy in the clubhouse. You add up all those things, he's a massive part of what we're doing."
Hyde used four relievers in the last two games with back-to-back deep starts from John Means and Gibson.
"I think they needed that, so I know John and I are happy we were able to do it," Gibson said. "Offense did a really good job again today, giving us a lead to work with. Allowed Adley and I to be aggressive in the strike zone and not worry about a leadoff double. Honestly, I wasn't worried if he scored that inning. I was just trying to get a couple quick outs and get out of that inning just giving up one.
"Adley was really good behind the plate today. We were on the same page all day."
Hyde sent Gibson back out for the eighth at 91 pitches and David Fry doubled. Danny Coulombe retired all three batters.
DL Hall breezed through the ninth and the Orioles packed for their return home. Their stretch of playing on consecutive days ended at 17. They won nine games.
"To end this long stretch with a 4-3 road trip, I don't think people understand how tough that is," Hyde said. "It shows the toughness of our team. Two tough places to play after playing all these games in a row. Just shows you a lot of the character of our club."
"We had a good win today," Rutschman said. "Right now, we're just trying to take care of business, take everything day-by-day, and I'm really happy with how we played today. ... We just want to go out, play hard every day and just focus on that. On the things that we can control."
Said Gibson: "It's probably been about as much up-and-down baseball as we've played all year, losing four, winning four. Losing a couple here and winning a couple. That's kind of uncharacteristic of us. But I think the one thing that stands true is they were all pretty close ballgames. We were in them, we fought back in a couple of them. Took the lead in a couple and, unfortunately, gave it up. But then, we kind of put our stamp on it here today and played really, really good baseball. So, everybody needs the off-day tomorrow and we'll come back home and enjoy a little celebration at home, hopefully, with the fans."
* Triple-A Norfolk’s Justin Armbruester allowed three runs and two hits in 1 2/3 innings. He walked three batters, struck out two, threw a wild pitch and hit two batters.
Coby Mayo had an RBI double, three walks and two runs scored. Shayne Fontanta singled twice and drove in two runs.
Kyle Dowdy allowed one hit and struck out six batters in 3 2/3 scoreless innings, but Ryan Watson allowed five runs in the seventh.