Orioles advance, 5-1 over 2-time AL champion Texas

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Buck Showalter thrust his arm into the air, then stood back and savored watching his surprising Baltimore Orioles celebrate on the field.

Champagne showers followed in the clubhouse after hugs from their manager following a 5-1 victory over the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers in the league’s first win-or-go-home wild-card playoff Friday night.

“One of our biggest regrets of the year would have been if our guys couldn’t have a moment after the game like that,” Showalter said. “We came so close a couple times. We got in the playoffs and didn’t really get to.”

The Orioles were on a team flight from Baltimore to Tampa Bay last Sunday night when their first playoff berth in 15 years was clinched. Now they get to go home for another shot to overtake the New York Yankees, with a best-of-five division series that starts Sunday at Camden Yards.

For Texas, which twice came within a strike of its first World Series title last October, there is nothing to celebrate. The Rangers didn’t win a postseason game this time, even with Yu Darvish on the mound at home.

They lost nine of their last 13 games in the regular season, which cost them their AL West crown on the final day after being swept by Oakland and put them in an unexpected elimination game — especially after leading the division for a majors-best 178 days.

“To be honest with you, I never thought anything like this would happen,” manager Ron Washington said. “I don’t get pessimistic, I always stay optimistic, and when things like this happen, I am shocked. And right now, I’m shocked.”

Texas is starting its longest offseason in three years, while Joe Saunders and the Orioles keep playing. Baltimore split 18 games this season with the East champion Yankees, the AL’s top seed.

Saunders, acquired by Baltimore from Arizona in late August, had lost all six of his previous starts with a 9.38 ERA at Rangers Ballpark. And the Orioles bullpen was already scrambling after Saunders, who hadn’t walked anybody his previous three starts, started the game by walking Ian Kinsler and giving up a single to Elvis Andrus.

But Saunders pitched effectively into the sixth. He also benefited from three double-play grounders, including Josh Hamilton’s in the first that sent Kinsler home with the only Texas run.

“Just an awesome experience. It means everything,” Saunders said. “It’s special to prove people wrong. I’ve been telling people all along that I’ve pitched better than my numbers here. … I love being the underdog. To knock off the defending two-time champs from the past couple of years is pretty amazing.”

Hamilton wound up getting booed in what might have been his last home game in a Rangers uniform.

The slugger was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, both on three pitches. He swung at the first pitch his other at-bats — including the double play in the first and a comebacker to start the sixth. He struck out with a runner at second base to end the eighth, when it was still a 3-1 game.

The former AL MVP and batting champion is eligible for free agency, and the Rangers might not be willing to pay the big money likely necessary to keep him.

“I hadn’t thought about it too much. I’m going to go home, spend some time with the family and figure out what’s going on,” Hamilton said. “I’d love to stay here. They understand it and know that. … Even if you send me off with boos, I still love you.”

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