The Orioles’ improbable season marches on

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For most of the regular season, the surprising success of the Orioles was downplayed because of a negative run-differential and their penchant for winning one-run and extra-inning games. Going into tonight’s Wild Card game against the Rangers, most prognosticators didn’t give the Orioles much of a chance because they were using left-hander Joe Saunders against a lineup stacked with right-handed hitters in a venue whether he had fared poorly during his career. However, consistent with everything they did during the regular season, the Orioles just keep defying expectations.

The Orioles topped the Rangers 5-1 tonight in Arlington for their first playoff win since Game 5 of the 1997 ALCS. They’ll now advance to take on the Yankees in the ALDS beginning Sunday at Camden Yards. Yes, there will be playoff baseball in Baltimore. And that’s pretty cool.

We have seen an unlikely cast of characters play important roles for the Orioles this season and the same was the case tonight. Joe Saunders, who was acquired from the Diamondbacks in August, tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Nate McLouth, who was signed to a minor league deal in June after being released by the Pirates, had an RBI single in the seventh inning and a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Darren O’Day, who was claimed off waivers from the Rangers last November, tossed two innings of scoreless relief. Manny Machado, a 20-year-old who made his major league debut in August, had an RBI single in the top of the ninth to provide some extra insurance for the bullpen. Just another exercise in “Oriole Magic.”

The Orioles have a pretty tough task ahead of them against the playoff-tested Yankees, who will have CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte waiting for them. As such, they aren’t going to shed that underdog label anytime soon. But you know what? They’ve worn it well so far.

Red Sox beat Yankees 11-6 to clinch AL East for third consecutive season

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The Red Sox have clinched the AL East for a third consecutive season, beating the Yankees 11-6 in the Bronx on Thursday night. It’s the third consecutive season in which the Red Sox have won the division, the first time that’s ever been done in club history. In fact, the only other times the Red Sox won the division in back-to-back years were 1903-04 and 1915-16.

AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts went 4-for-5 with a two-run single in the second inning off of Masahiro Tanaka and a three-run homer in the eighth against Aroldis Chapman to put the game out of reach. Jackie Bradley and Brock Holt also hit homers. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was on the hook for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, but three of them scored when Heath Hembree inherited a bases-loaded situation, then served up a grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth. The rest of the bullpen combined to fire five scoreless innings. Steven Wright had three of them followed by zeroes from Ryan Brasier and Craig Kimbrel.

With the loss, the Yankees’ lead over the Athletics for the first Wild Card slot shrinks to 1.5 games. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will try to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a 104-49 record, their closest competitor is the 95-57 Astros. With nine games remaining in the regular season for the Red Sox, they would have to lose every game remaining in the regular season and the Astros would have to win their 10 remaining games in order to fail to claim home field advantage.