Elliott Brown/ALOST

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

BALTIMORE — It had been nine long years since Baltimore Orioles fans had the chance to see their heroes clinch a division title, and their first chance to see the long-awaited coronation came on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, events elsewhere assured that tonight would not be the night for celebrations and champagne.

Fortunately, the fans did see another masterpiece from one of their young aces on the mound, as well as a power display from their cherubic face of the franchise, allowing the team to, hopefully, reschedule their party for 24 hours later.

Grayson Rodriguez allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings of work, helping to lead the Orioles to a 5-1 win over the Washington Nationals and complete a two-game sweep of their Beltway rivals. Adley Rutschman hit a two-run home run in the third inning for the only runs Baltimore would need, as it reduced its magic number to clinch the American League division title to one with the victory.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, 5-0, to prevent the Orioles from officially clinching the division title. Instead of getting help, however, the Orioles can take care of business and win the division title — and the No. 1 overall seed in the American League that will go with it — if they defeat the Red Sox tomorrow when the teams start a four-game set to close out the season. (Tampa Bay is off tomorrow before it starts its final series of the season in Toronto.)

It was fitting the Rodriguez started on the night the Orioles had their first opportunity to clinch the East given his last start, where he took the mound after the Rays won the first two games of a four-game set to tie Baltimore for the division lead and proceeded to throw eight shutout innings in a victory that has put the Orioles in the race at the top for good. One night after Kyle Bradish twirled eight shutout innings of his own in the series opener against the Nationals, Rodriguez struck out five and did not allow a walk, retiring 13 of the first 14 batters he faced.

After being sent down to Triple-A in late May after 10 uneven starts, Rodriguez has gone 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 13 starts since his return to the Major Leagues, allowing just 63 hits (and only three home runs) in 76 2/3 innings, all but locking up the No. 2 starting spot behind Kyle Bradish when Baltimore starts postseason play next week.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve never been to a big league postseason game before. I always just watched them on TV. Pitching in one, or sitting in the dugout, is going to be pretty special.”

Unless the Orioles get swept this weekend, something that has not happened to Baltimore in any series this season, the Orioles will go into the postseason with 100 wins, and tonight’s win marked the 99th victory of the campaign. The last time the Orioles won 100 games was back in 1980 when that team finished 100-62, and the victory tonight also pushed the Orioles 40 games over the .500 mark for the first time since the 1979 AL Championship team finished the season 102-57.

“We’re playing in the toughest division in sports. And to lose 110 two years ago, and to have a chance to win 100 now, it says a lot about those guys in that room,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “They’ve learned to battle and fight and grind and beat good teams. So in just two years to be able to do what they’re doing is amazing.”

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Wednesday evening’s contest, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Elliott Brown. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 29 pictures in total.

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