BALTIMORE -- The Orioles took the field Wednesday night knowing that it would be their final game of the 2011 season, but you would have had a hard time believing it watching what unfolded at Camden Yards.
Despite a year littered with injury and underperformance, the Orioles, who orchestrated a September surge that gave American League opponents fits, fought tooth and nail in their final attempt to shake up the AL Wild Card race and finished what they started with a thrilling 4-3 walk-off win over the Red Sox.
"End of season like this, [to] make Boston go home sad, crying, I'll take it all day," said second baseman Robert Andino, whose two-out ninth-inning RBI was followed a minute later by Tampa Bay's walk-off win over the Yankees, effectively ended a reeling Red Sox's hopes of reaching the postseason.
"It was exciting," said outfielder Nolan Reimold, who tied the game with an RBI double off Boston's closer Jonathan Papelbon. "We battled to the end and we came out on top this time. We weren't playing for the playoffs, but we were playing for pride, and we showed it tonight."
"It feels great," added catcher Matt Wieters, who, along with the rest of the Orioles and Red Sox, spent most of the 86-minute rain delay watching the Rays rally from a seven-run deficit. "To end the year like that is pretty special and that's something to take into the offseason, keep working even harder to where we can be celebrating like Tampa is."
With the Orioles down a run and staring at their final out, third baseman Chris Davis kept the game alive with a double off Papelbon, and Reimold's scorcher, which was ruled a ground-rule double, scored pinch-runner Kyle Hudson to tie the game at 3. Andino, whose heroics helped the O's win Monday's game, dug in against Papelbon hitless in his all four of his previous at-bats. But all it took was a 1-1 splitter with just enough of the plate to change his night and alter the Red Sox's fate, sending Boston packing in a historical September collapse.
"From what I understand, Atlanta's feeling the same way right now," said manager Buck Showalter, who expressed some sympathy for Boston's plight. "It's a heartless game sometimes, but I've found out through the years that the baseball gods, so to speak, always let you up off the deck if you're true to what's right and you just keep grinding. They eventually will reward you for that, and I keep telling our guys that. It was nice to get a return for that here."
"We leaned on him for so much," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Papelbon, whose presence guided the Red Sox to a 77-0 record when leading after eight innings going into Wednesday night. "We didn't extend the lead. If you make a mistake, it can cost you a game, and that's what happened. He's been there for us so many times. I'd give him the ball again. It just didn't work."
That the Orioles were within striking distance was a testament to some pretty impressive feats before that, including reliever Jim Johnson's high-wire act to escape the top of the ninth without a run and a key takedown of Marco Scutaro at home plate.
With reliever Pedro Strop on for the eighth inning, Adam Jones, who was honored as the team's Most Valuable Oriole in a pregame ceremony, showed his worth with his second outfield assist of the night to keep Boston from extending its lead. After Scutaro's one out single, Carl Crawford doubled into the center-field gap, and a hustling Jones made a perfect relay throw to J.J. Hardy, who turned and fired a throw to the plate. Wieters caught the ball on a hop and made the tough tag look easy, nabbing Scutaro for a big second out. Strop then got Mike Aviles to pop up in foul territory to end the inning.
"As tough as it's been this last month, we weren't ready to go home," Francona said. "You want to go home when you dictate, not when somebody makes you. It's extremely disappointing."
Conversely, the Orioles will head home with wins in five of their final seven games against the Red Sox, and a collective 11-6 record down the stretch. Whether their second consecutive September surge will carry over into next spring and beyond, Showalter, who has been heavily rumored to take over as the team's next president/general manager, wasn't sure.
"Last year, our record was better than the year before, and this year it's better than last year, and I want to keep that up," said Showalter, who, if he does move upstairs, will be faced with the tall task of reversing a trend of 14 consecutive losing seasons. "It may not seem like much to a lot of people who just look at it purely by the numbers, but it's inch by inch, claw by claw. We didn't get where we were overnight, and we've got to keep that type of relentlessness and not be denied. I don't pay a lot of lip service about what we're going to do and not do. Let's see it. That's what I'd be saying if I were the fans."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.