Arlington, TX – Buck Showalter has pushed all the right buttons for the Baltimore Orioles this season.
Showalter elected to start his veteran left-hander Joe Saunders, despite a woeful mark in his career against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
He didn't disappoint.
Saunders tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, while Nate McLouth tallied two RBI and a run scored in the Orioles' 5-1 win over the two-time American League-champion Rangers in the AL wild-card game.
"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," Showalter said of Saunders.
The 31-year-old Saunders (1-0), who was 0-6 with a lofty 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark, fanned four, surrendered six hits and walked one for Baltimore, which is in the postseason for the first time since 1997.
"As a baseball player and an athlete, you always want to prove people wrong. We strive on that, and I strive on that, too," Saunders said. "No one really gave me a chance, and I wanted to go out there and prove people wrong."
Jim Johnson, who led the majors and set a team record with 51 saves this year, left the bases loaded in the ninth.
The Orioles will now host Game 1 of the ALDS at Camden Yards against the New York Yankees on Sunday.
Texas, a team which twice came within a strike of winning last year's World Series, will shockingly watch the rest of the postseason at home.
The Rangers were atop the AL West standings for a whopping 178 days and led the division by 13 games over the Oakland Athletics on June 30. But the A's went an MLB-best 57-26 since to take the crown, while the Rangers went 43-40.
Texas dropped five of its last six games, which included a three-game sweep this past week against Oakland, which clinched the division title on the final day of the regular season.
Making his postseason debut, Yu Darvish (0-1), a 16-game winner during the year, struck out seven, but allowed three runs -- two earned -- on five hits over 6 2/3 frames to take the loss.
"He actually kept us in the ballgame," Texas manager Ron Washington said of Darvish. "They only put one run on the board. Even if they don't get any more, the sacrifice fly they got and the first-and-third situation, that won the ballgame. We didn't score another run. He did his job."
With the game tied 1-1 after five innings of play, the O's plated a run in the sixth, another in the seventh and two more in the ninth.
In the sixth, J.J. Hardy singled to right field and Chris Davis bounced a grounder through the hole on the right side to put runners on the corners with one out. Adam Jones then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to put Baltimore ahead.
Ryan Flaherty slapped a one-out base hit to right field and pinch-runner Robert Andino advanced to second on Manny Machado's sacrifice bunt in the seventh.
Derek Holland came on to relieve Darvish and his wild pitch helped Andino move to third. He scored when McLouth poked a single into shallow left field for a 3-1 advantage.
In the ninth, Jim Thome worked a leadoff walk and Andino ripped a double off the left-field wall to put runners on second and third with one out. Pinch- runner Lew Ford scored on Machado's base hit to left field and Andino came around on McLouth's sacrifice fly to center field.
Due to a stout back end of the bullpen, the Orioles went an MLB-best 74-0 when leading after seven innings.
The Rangers, though, put a runner in scoring position in the eighth and had the bags full in the ninth.
Brian Matusz struck out the potential tying run in Josh Hamilton to end the threat in the eighth, and David Murphy flied out to left field in the ninth to end the game.
Earlier, both teams pushed across a run in the opening frame.
Michael Young's fielding error allowed McLouth to reach to start the game and after stealing second, he scored when Hardy singled to center field.
Texas put runners on the corners with none away in the home half after Ian Kinsler walked and Andrus singled. Kinsler came across on Hamilton's double- play groundout.
Saunders pitched out of a jam in the fourth.
After Nelson Cruz and Young singled to put runners on first and third with one out, Saunders struck Napoli out and induced an inning-ending groundout to Geovany Soto.
The Yankees and Orioles split the season series, 9-9 ... The last time New York and Baltimore met in the postseason was the 1996 ALCS, when the Yankees took down the O's in five games.