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. Baltimore 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 post-season as American League 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."
Orioles' plane diverted
The airplane taking the Baltimore Orioles to St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday night had its flight diverted to Jacksonville because of smoke in the forward galley.
Michael Stewart, spokesman for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, told The Associated Press that the plane was inspected and deemed OK to fly. The Orioles resumed their trip on the same aircraft, leaving Jacksonville International Airport at 10:15 p.m. ET.
Stewart said the plane was a Delta charter with more than 90 people aboard.
Baltimore, tied with New York for first place in the American League East, opens a series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
In a statement, the Orioles said, "Due to a minor incident in the galley, the Orioles' charter made an unscheduled landing in Jacksonville, Florida en route to St. Petersburg tonight. After the plane was inspected, all crew and passengers re-boarded and flew to St. Petersburg without further incident. This unscheduled landing was done with an abundance of caution and at no time was anyone on the flight in danger."
After the team touched down in St. Petersburg, manager Buck Showalter said during a telephone conference call, "We were in good hands. It was just a precautionary thing just to be on the safe side."
He added, "We had a little something heat up on the plane, and the professionals didn't like what was going on. So just to check it out and be on the safe side, we stopped in Jacksonville. We fixed whatever the problem was, got back on the plane and took off.
"It gave everyone a chance to watch some of the Eagles [football] game, so it worked out good."
The Orioles beat Boston 6-3 in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon. Baltimore later clinched a playoff spot when the Los Angeles Angels lost at Texas in the second game of a doubleheader.
— The Associated Press
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-run double by Torii Hunter put the Angels in front and ruined the fun. As the Orioles walked off the field, manager Buck Showalter waved to the crowd and offered a fist-pump of encouragement.
The Angels' 5-4 win kept the Orioles' magic number to clinch a wild-card berth at one. The Angels and Rangers were scheduled to wrap up the doubleheader on Sunday night, and while a loss by Los Angeles would put Baltimore in the post-season, that wouldn't do anything to get the champagne out of that enclosed container.
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, on the other hand, is looking to go into the post-season as American League East champions. The Orioles remain tied atop the division standings with the New York Yankees, who rallied to beat Toronto 9-6.
Both contenders have three games left. New York begins a season-ending series against visiting Boston on Monday night, and the Orioles travel to Tampa Bay.
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).
Jim Johnson worked the ninth for his 50th save.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning to move Oakland a win closer to the club's first playoff berth in six years, and the hometown Athletics stayed right on the heels of Texas in the AL West race.
Cespedes also hit an RBI triple and Brandon Moss had a sacrifice fly in the first inning for the A's, who pulled within 1 1/2 games of Texas. The Rangers were playing Game 2 of a doubleheader at home Sunday night against the Angels.
The two-time reigning AL champion Rangers come to the Coliseum for the final three games starting Monday with the division crown still up for grabs.
Oakland (91-68) leads Los Angeles by 2 1/2 games for the second AL wild card.
CHICAGO — David Price became Tampa Bay's first 20-game winner, B.J. Upton homered twice and the Rays stayed afloat in the AL wild- card race by beating the fading White Sox.
Tampa Bay, which began the day three games behind Oakland for the second wild card, won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Rays were eliminated from the AL East earlier Sunday.
Chicago has lost 10 of 12 and moved to the brink of elimination, falling three games behind AL Central-leading Detroit with three games to play. The White Sox held at least a share of the lead from July 24 until Wednesday and had not been third far back since late May.
Chicago's only hope is to sweep three games at Cleveland and have the Tigers lose three at Kansas City, which would force a one-game tiebreaker.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Prince Fielder hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to lift Detroit to victory over Minnesota, assuring that the Tigers won't lose any of their lead on the White Sox in the AL Central.
The Tigers entered the day two games up on Chicago in the division with four to play.
Fielder's opposite-field shot off Jared Burton (3-2) barely got over the wall in left field for his 30th homer of the season.
Miguel Cabrera, who is trying to become the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown, went 0-for-3 with an intentional walk, dropping his AL-leading batting average to .325. Twins star Joe Mauer went 3-for-4 with an intentional walk to raise his average to .323.
Angels 5, Rangers 4 (Game 1)
Rangers 8, Angels 7 (Game 2)
ARLINGTON, Tex. — Mike Napoli homered twice and drove in six runs as the Texas Rangers assured themselves and two other teams of spots in the playoffs with a victory Sunday night, earning a doubleheader split against the Los Angeles Angels.
Napoli's second homer in the nightcap was a go-ahead three-run shot in the third.
Two-time defending AL champion Texas (93-66) can be no worse than a wild card. The Rangers clinch their third consecutive AL West title by winning once in a three-game series at Oakland that starts Monday.
Los Angeles, which won Sunday's opener 5-4, trails the A's by three games for the AL's second wild card.
The loss by the Angels (88-71) also clinched playoffs spots for Baltimore and the New York Yankees, who are tied for the AL East lead.
CLEVELAND — Asdrubal Cabrera capped a 10-run fifth inning with a grand slam and the Cleveland Indians routed visiting Kansas City.
Zach McAllister (6-8) pitched five-hit ball over 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs as Cleveland improved to 2-1 with interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr.
Royals starter Luke Hochevar (8-16) was tagged for nine runs over 4 2/3 innings.
The Indians tied a season high in runs and hits, 19. It was their ninth double-digit hit total in 10 games. They've won six of them, including a 15-4 victory in Kansas City a week ago.