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Orioles, Saunders prove doubters wrong with win over Rangers

The SportsXchange

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Baltimore Orioles' dream season will continue in the American League Division series after they outlasted the Texas Rangers 5-1 in the wild-card game Friday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The Orioles advance to face the New York Yankees in a best-of-five series beginning Sunday in Baltimore. The first two games are at Oriole Park before the series shifts to Yankee Stadium for the final three.

Baltimore got a solid outing out of starter Joe Saunders, who had been tormented by the Rangers throughout his career.

"It all starts with Joe Saunders and the outing he gave us," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "He's had two good outings in a row and felt like if he could get his feet on the ground, all the emotion around the ballpark, you could see the experience that he's had play out."

As for the two-time defending American League champion Rangers, the wild-card loss puts a final exclamation point on a nightmarish collapse down the stretch for a team with World Series aspirations. Texas, which held a four-game lead over Oakland with six games to play, was swept by the A's in a season-ending series to lose the AL West.

Baltimore battled the Yankees in the AL East down the last day of the season before settling for the wild card. The Orioles reached the postseason for the first time since 1997.

Saunders hadn't had much luck against Texas. The former Angels pitcher came into Friday with a 6.48 ERA all-time against the Rangers and a 9.38 ERA in Arlington, but it was a different story in a win-or-go-home game.

"As a baseball player and an athlete, you always want to prove people wrong," said Saunders, the winning pitcher. "We strive on that, and I strive on that, too. No one really gave me a chance, and I wanted to go out there and prove people wrong."

The veteran maneuvered his way into the sixth inning, giving up just one run on six hits while striking out four. Saunders then turned the ball over to Baltimore's superb bullpen, which worked 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Texas loaded the bases against AL save leader Jim Johnson in the ninth but couldn't score.

Texas trotted out right-hander Yu Darvish, who developed into the team's ace during a 16-9 rookie season. Darvish, especially effective down the stretch, was facing Baltimore for the first time.

Darvish was up to the task in his first playoff game, but the Rangers' bats were quiet once again. Lack of offense plagued Texas throughout September and into October.

"I don't know the right way to describe it," Texas outfielder David Murphy said. "At some point we just ran out of gas. We stopped playing like the Rangers. I don't know why that is. It just happened and it's disappointing when you don't perform."

Josh Hamilton, playing perhaps his last game with Texas, went hitless in four at-bats and didn't get a ball out of in the field. The MVP candidate estimated his chances of coming back to the Rangers at 50-50.

"I'd love to stay here," Hamilton said. "I've told (management) that and they know that."

The O's managed a second run against Darvish in the sixth on back-to-back singles by J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis and a sacrifice fly Adam Jones.

Baltimore chased Darvish in the seventh with pinch runner Robert Andino at second and one out. Texas lefty Derek Holland followed in relief and promptly threw a wild pitch to move Andino to third. A single to shallow left by Nate McLouth made it 3-1. The O's added two insurance runs in the ninth.

The Orioles wasted little time getting on the board thanks to a Rangers error by first baseman Michael Young, who couldn't handle a hard-hit ball by McLouth. Baltimore's leadoff hitter stole second and scored on a single by Hardy for a 1-0 lead in the first.

The Rangers struck right back in the bottom of the inning. Ian Kinsler walked to begin the inning and advanced to third on Elvis Andrus' single to left. Kinsler came home on Hamilton's double-play groundout.

Saunders and Darvish settled in after the first. The teams traded zeroes for the next four innings, though the Rangers left several scoring chances stranded on the bases. Texas had at least one baserunner in each of the first five innings.

NOTES: Texas and Baltimore each loaded up with 11 pitchers on the wild card roster and 14 position players. Rosters can be set again for the division series. ... Six former Rangers play for the Orioles: Chris Davis, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop, Tommy Hunter, Endy Chavez and Taylor Teagarden. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter managed Texas from 2003-06. ... Texas 3B Adrian Beltre was back in the field after being the DH the last few days of the regular season with a sore shoulder.
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