CLEVELAND—After two late-inning losses in their first two games in Cleveland, the Orioles got two excellent starts and two wins in their final two games.
Oriole starter Kyle Gibson allowed one run on five hits in seven-plus innings, and the Orioles beat the Guardians, 5-1, before an announced crowd of 20,287 at Progressive Field on Sunday. Gibson’s performance followed a brilliant start by left-hander John Means, who held the Guardians hitless for 6 2/3 innings on Saturday.
The Orioles’ lead in the American League East is now 2 ½ games since the Tampa Bay Rays lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, 9-5. Their magic number is reduced to three.
Any combination of Rays losses and Orioles wins equaling three awards Baltimore its first AL East title since 2014. Both teams are off on Monday. The earliest the Orioles could clinch would be Wednesday against the Washington Nationals.
“We’re just focused on what we’re doing,” catcher Adley Rutschman said. “We just want to go out, play hard every day and just focus on that, on the things we can control.”
The Orioles (97-59) concluded the road portion of their regular season schedule with a 52-29 record. That ties the 1997 team for best road record in team history.
They completed a difficult stretch of 17 games in 17 days with a 9-8 record. On their trip to Houston and Cleveland, they were 4-3.
“I don’t think people understand how tough that is and shows the toughness of our team,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
“It’s been about as much up-and-down baseball as we’ve played all year,” Gibson said. “The one thing that stands true is that they were all pretty close ballgames. We were in them. We fought back in a couple of them, took the lead in a couple of them and unfortunately gave it up. Then we put a stamp on it here today and played really, really good baseball.
“Everybody needs the off day tomorrow. We’ll come back home and then enjoy a little celebration at home, hopefully with the fans.”
Gibson (15-9) allowed one run on five hits. He left after David Fry doubled to start the eighth. He walked one, struck out four and hit a batter. It was the seventh time Gibson had completed at least seven innings.
The back-to-back starts by Means and Gibson helped a battered bullpen.
“I think they needed that,” Gibson said. “I know John and I were happy to do it. Offense did us a good job today, giving us a lead to work with. Allowed Adley and I to be aggressive in the strike zone.”
Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie, who spent the last three months on the injured list with a sprained right elbow, had a disastrous return. Just 19 of McKenzie’s 52 pitches were strikes, and he walked six of 12 batters, a career high.
“I’ve seen him a lot better,” Hyde said. “He’s coming back off injury. He wasn’t himself. We got fortunate with that. He didn’t have the command he normally does. We did a good job waiting him out.”
McKenzie (0-2) gave up one hit in his 1 2/3 innings, an RBI double by Jordan Westburg that scored Heston Kjerstad, who walked. Westburg had been 0-for-11.
The Orioles scored three runs in the second. Jorge Mateo’s infield out scored Cedric Mullins, who also walked, and Anthony Santander’s bases-loaded walk scored Westburg.
McKenzie was pulled after Santander’s walk. Ryan O’Hearn’s fly to left ended the inning. Eli Morgan allowed doubles in the fourth to Jorge Mateo and Rutschman to make it 4-0.
Cleveland (74-83) got a run in the fourth when José Ramiréz doubled and scored on Kole Calhoun’s grounder.
Mullins broke an 0-for-18 streak with an RBI single against Sam Hentges in the fifth that increased the Orioles’ lead to 5-1.
With the Orioles closing on the AL East championship, Hyde is looking forward to his team’s first offday at home since August 21st, and what could come shortly after that.
“I’m just excited about how our club is playing,” Hyde said. “We’re fun to watch. Everybody in the clubhouse is extremely loose, and we’re having a lot of fun right now. I’m looking forward to next week.”
Danny Coulombe and DL Hall retired the last six Guardians hitters.
“Any time you inch closer, you’re getting excited,” Gibson said. “This is a team that’s really looking forward to it. If we just keep taking care of business, there’ll be a whole lot of fun here coming up.”
Notes: The Orioles play the Washington Nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kyle Bradish (11-7, 3.01) will start on Tuesday, and Grayson Rodriguez (6-4, 4.49) will start on Wednesday. Washington hasn’t named its starters. … Centerfielder Shayne Fontana had two hits as Triple-A Norfolk ended its regular season with an 11-6 loss to Buffalo. The Tides begin the best 2-of-3 International League playoffs against Durham on Tuesday night in Norfolk.