ARLINGTON, Texas — The first-ever American League Wild Card playoff game Friday night will be contested by two teams that owned at least a share of first place in their respective divisions with three contests remaining in the regular season. The surprising Baltimore Orioles were tied with the New York Yankees atop the AL East entering the final three-game series of the year. But while New York was sweeping the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore dropped two of three against the Rays in Tampa Bay following a 25-10 run and wound up settling for the second wild-card spot.
The end of the regular season was even more disappointing for the Texas Rangers, who squandered a five-game lead with nine contests remaining and settled for the first wild card. Texas, which occupied first place in the AL West for 178 days, was swept of its season-ending three-game series by eventual division champion Oakland. The Rangers dropped nine of their final 13 contests, including Wednesday’s season finale in which they built a 5-1 lead before allowing 11 unanswered runs.
Texas, which had been in first place in the West since April 9, won five of its seven meetings with the Orioles this season. The Rangers captured two of three at home from Aug. 20-22 after taking three of four in Baltimore from May 7-10.
TV: 8:37 p.m. ET, TBS
PITCHING MATCHUP: Orioles LH Joe Saunders (3-3, 3.63 ERA) vs. Rangers RH Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90)
Saunders has pitched well since yielding seven runs against Chicago in his debut with the Orioles on Aug. 29, allowing three earned runs or less in each of his last six starts. The 31-year-old ended his regular season on a high note, giving up three runs over 7 1/3 innings of a victory over the Red Sox on Sunday. Saunders has not fared well against Texas in his career, however, going 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA in 11 starts.
Darvish finished his impressive rookie season strong, winning his final four decisions while allowing three runs or less in each of his last eight starts. The 26-year-old Japanese right-hander finished fifth in the AL with 221 strikeouts and held opponents to a .220 batting average, the third-best mark in the league. Darvish, who went 10-2 in 14 starts at home, will be facing Baltimore for the first time.
WALK-OFFS: Baltimore logged a franchise-record 1,483 innings pitched this season, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,478 2/3 frames tossed by the 1970 Orioles. … The Rangers set a club record by committing only 85 errors, two fewer than the previous team low set in 1996. … CF Adam Jones became the first Oriole since Miguel Tejada in 2006 to play in every regular-season game.