BALTIMORE (AP) Sixteen months after his arrival marked a turning point for the Baltimore Orioles, Adley Rutschman and his team are one victory from a division title.
Rutschman homered and drove in three runs, Grayson Rodriguez pitched into the sixth inning and the Orioles lowered their magic number to one in the AL East with a 5-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.
The Orioles would have clinched the division with a victory and a loss by second-place Tampa Bay, but the Rays won 5-0 in Boston. Baltimore will try for its first AL East crown since 2014 on Thursday night when the Red Sox arrive for a four-game series at Camden Yards.
“It's kind of in our own hands right now,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “So that's a lot of fun.”
The Orioles (99-59) extended their winning streak to four and reached their highest victory total since going 100-62 in 1980.
“We're playing in the toughest division in sports,” Hyde said. “To lose 110 two years ago, have a chance to win 100 now, it says a lot about those guys in that room. They've learned to battle and fight and grind and beat good teams. In just two years, to be able to do what they're doing is amazing.”
Rutschman hit a two-run homer in the third to open the scoring, and Rodriguez (7-4) allowed a run and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Baltimore swept the four-game season series against the Nationals, outscoring them 11-1.
Patrick Corbin (10-15) allowed four runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Jake Alu singled home Washington's first run of the season against the Orioles in the fifth, but Rutschman answered with an RBI single that boosted the lead to 3-1. Corbin made a nice flip home for a force on Gunnar Henderson's bases-loaded dribbler later in the fifth, but he followed by forcing in another run with a walk to Jordan Westburg.
Austin Hays made it 5-1 with a run-scoring single in the sixth.
Rutschman was called up to the majors last May, and the young catcher helped the Orioles to an 83-win season that signaled the end of their rebuilding period. Now Baltimore is a force in the American League. If the Orioles win the AL East, they'll also be the AL's top seed in the postseason.
“Everyone's excited,” Rutschman said. “Tomorrow, just same thing as it always is, another game. Keep going with the process.”
This likely was Rodriguez's last start before the playoffs. The rookie is 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA since returning from the minors in July.
“I've never been to a big league postseason game before,” he said. “Always just watched them on TV. Pitching in one, sitting in the dugout is going to be pretty special.”
The Baltimore bullpen, which looked worn out last weekend, pitched 3 1/3 perfect innings.
There was a black No. 5 with orange bordering on the grass in foul ground near third base, in honor of Orioles great Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Fame third baseman who died at age 86. There was another No. 5 with a white background on the warehouse beyond right field.
Orioles: Baltimore reinstated INF Ryan Mountcastle (left AC joint inflammation) from the injured list, but he did not play. The Orioles optioned OF Ryan McKenna to Triple-A Norfolk.
Tampa Bay is off Thursday, so beating Boston is the only way the Orioles can wrap up the division that night. They're sending Dean Kremer (12-5) to the mound against Chris Sale (6-4) of the Red Sox.
AP Baseball: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB
This version has been corrected to show Corbin pitched 4 2/3 innings.
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