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West Springfield Grad Puts Orioles Into Playoffs

Baltimore starting pitcher Joe Saunders got the win Sunday against the Red Sox, then later in the day, the team gained a post-season berth for the first time since 1997.

Joe Saunders grew up in Springfield and during the 1990s, would go with his family to see the Baltimore Orioles play at Camden Yards, since there was no team in Washington during that time.

Late Sunday afternoon, the West Springfield High School graduate made his own history at Camden Yards. The left-handed starting pitcher got the win as the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox, 6-3. He allowed eight hits, including two homers, and three runs with five strikeouts and no walks.

Was it special to get the win Sunday in the park where he grew up watching games? “It was. It was pretty surreal really, coming here as a kid and seeing a lot of games, seeing Cal (Ripken) and Brady (Anderson) play. To have that moment for me was pretty touching,” said Saunders, standing in the Orioles’ clubhouse after the game.

“It was a special moment for me, especially growing up here,” said Saunders, who tipped his cap to the fans when he was taken out with one out in the top of the eighth. “It is a very hungry team. It is a young bunch of guys that want to prove something.”

Saunders, 31, who helped West Springfield reach the state finals in the late 1990s under former head coach Ron Tugwell, was drafted in the first round out of Virginia Tech by the Angels in 2002. And when the Angels lost at Texas late Sunday in the second of two games on the day there, the Orioles were assured of their first post-season berth since 1997.

“It was awesome. I was very humbled to get this opportunity to do this and come out and get a victory for the ball club was very special,” said Saunders, who got his third win for the Orioles this season after he was traded by Arizona to Baltimore in late August. “You always want to set the tone early. Just get out there and get as many outs as you can. Fortunately we came out with a victory in a must-win game.”

Baltimore manager Buck Showalter, whose father grew up in southwest Virginia, was pleased with the outing by Saunders.

“He pitched well. The ball was flying out of here today,” said Showalter, noting that the Orioles hit three homers against Boston. “To hold them to three runs in a day game here is pretty impressive.”

Saunders has been pitched well in September during his Major League career, which has included stints with the Angels and Diamondbacks. “In my opinion September is a whole other season in itself. It is crunch time. It is time to get down to business. I always pride myself to do my best in that situation,” he said before the team flew to Florida to begin a three-game series Monday night against the Rays.

The Orioles entered play Monday tied with the Yankees for first place in the American League East. The regular-season ends Wednesday for both teams. New York hosts Boston in a three-game series through Wednesday. “We have worked hard for it,” Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters said of a post-season berth.

After the Orioles got the last out at nearly 4 p.m. Sunday, the team stayed on the field to watch the Angels at Rangers game being shown on the scoreboard. The Angels scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take the lead and the Orioles then headed to the club house to watch the rest of the game, which was won by the Angels.

“We came back here and it was awkward, very awkward,” Saunders said. “You kind of want to do it on your own terms. You don’t want to rely on other teams helping you out.”

But that is what happened a few hours later while the Orioles were flying to Florida, as Texas won the second of two games against the Angels on Sunday. Baltimore entered play Monday with a chance to have the best record this season in the American League, which would have seemed like a pipedream back in spring training.

Saunders is now 78-65 in his Major League career. But the biggest win may have come Sunday in Baltimore. “It was special, it was really special,” said Saunders, who was taken out after he fanned Boston star Jacoby Ellsbury to begin the eighth. “I knew I had one more batter. Fortunately he missed that one on 3-2. I knew that was my last shindig.”

But if all goes well, the Orioles may be back at Camden Yards for at least one playoff game.

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