BALTIMORE (AP) - The champagne was on ice, plastic shields were in place above the cubicles in the Baltimore clubhouse and couches were removed to accommodate a celebration 15 years in the making.
The party never happened - at least not at the ballpark after the Orioles beat Boston 6-3 Sunday.
Baltimore ultimately clinched its first playoff berth since 1997, but not until late Sunday when the Texas Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 8-7 in the finale of a day-night doubleheader.
The Orioles are assured a wild-card berth, but they're looking to get into the postseason as AL East champions. Upon arriving in Tampa area, where the Orioles open a season-ending series at the Rays on Monday night, manager Buck Showalter said, ``I think everybody knows where the finish line is, and we're not there.'
He added, ``There are steps to it. One is assuring yourself of getting a chair at the dance. And then we'd like to figure out a way to play some games at our park in front of our fans. It's in our court.'
The Orioles remained tied atop the division standings with the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat Toronto 9-6 and also clinched no worse than a wild-card berth.
Both contenders have three games left. New York begins a season-ending series against visiting Boston on Monday night, and the Orioles face the Rays.
``We'll see where the next three games take us,' Showalter said.
After the final out of their win over the Red Sox, around two dozen players and coaches took scoreboard watching to a new level by staying on the field at Camden Yards and rooting for the Rangers to win the opener,
Orioles players exchanged high-fives and fist-bumps following their fourth straight victory, then gathered along the first-base line to watch the scoreboard telecast of the ninth inning, which began with Texas winning 4-3.
Many in the crowd of 41,257 stood and watched, too.
But a two-out, two-run double by Torii Hunter put the Angels in front and ruined the fun. As the Orioles walked off the field, Showalter waved to the crowd and offered a fist-pump of encouragement.
Sitting in front of his locker with a beer in his hand, first baseman Mark Reynolds said, ``It would have definitely been cool to celebrate with our fans. They've been supporting us all year. To be able to celebrate out there with them and take in the moment, it would have been pretty neat.'
Baltimore held out hope of cracking open a few cases of champagne in Florida.
``I take particular enjoyment in ruining someone else's clubhouse,' reliever Darren O'Day said.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy added, ``I'm not going to say there's no disappointment, but we all understand we need to keep playing good baseball to get where we want to be. We'll just worry about ourselves and win the next three games.'
Who'd have thought the Orioles would be talking about division titles, playoff berths and champagne after 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes? The Orioles (92-67) already have 23 more wins than a year ago.
``Our goal now is try to figure out a way to play some more baseball games here at Camden,' Showalter said. ``Hopefully, it's see you later.'
Hardy, Nate McLouth and Chris Davis hit solo homers, and Jim Thome drove in two runs for Baltimore. The Orioles completed a sweep and went 13-5 against Boston, their most wins in a single season versus the Red Sox since 1970 (13-5).
Joe Saunders (3-3) allowed three runs, eight hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings for Baltimore. Obtained in a late-August trade with Arizona, Saunders has yielded a total of 12 earned runs in his last six starts.
Jim Johnson worked the ninth for his 50th save.
Cody Ross and Daniel Nava homered for the last-place Red Sox, who have dropped five straight and 16 of 22. Boston (69-90) last lost 90 games in 1966.
``We haven't had a good season,' manager Bobby Valentine acknowledged.
Zach Stewart (0-2) gave up five runs and seven hits, including two homers, in 2 2-3 innings. In three starts this season he's surrendered eight home runs.
After being beaten and bashed by the Orioles, who hit seven homers in the three-game series, the Red Sox now head to Yankee Stadium.
A sunny, breezy fall afternoon couldn't have started much better for the Orioles. After the video board showed the Yankees and Angels losing early, McLouth hit the fourth pitch from Stewart over the left-field wall.
``After that just trying to do damage control,' Stewart said. ``Try to keep it at that score. Obviously I didn't do that.'
Hardy and Davis followed with singles before Stewart hit Jones with a pitch to load the bases. After Matt Wieters bounced into a run-scoring 4-6-3 double play, Thome followed with grounder up the middle that beat the shift and rolled into the outfield, scoring Davis for a 3-0 lead.
Boston wasted doubles in the second and third innings before Hardy led off the bottom of the third with his 22nd home run. Jones singled with one out, and Thome chased Stewart with an RBI single.
Ross homered in the fourth to get the Red Sox to 5-1. Davis connected off Clayton Mortensen in the fifth, his 31st homer of the season and fourth in four games.
Nava homered in the seventh with a man on.
NOTES: Jones was chosen Orioles MVP in a vote among media covering the team, the second straight year he's won the award. ``It is given to me, but I think the whole team deserves it,' he said. ... Boston hit three doubles and now has a major-league leading 214 for the season. ... Red Sox RHP Clay Buchholz, who's 2-4 with a 5.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees, starts Monday night against CC Sabathia. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen (12-10) starts for Baltimore in Tampa Bay against Alex Cobb (10-9). ... The top three players in the Baltimore lineup - McLouth, Hardy and Davis - combined to go 6 for 10 with three HRs and five runs.
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