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Saunders delivers with O's stakes the highest yet

ARLINGTON -- Orioles veteran Joe Saunders, who entered Friday's win-or-go-home American League Wild Card game with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark, turned in 5 2/3 solid innings en route to a 5-1 Wild Card victory.

Saunders rebuked his abysmal record in Arlington and the Orioles manufactured a trio of runs off Yu Darvish to stun the Rangers. The victory, in front of 46,931 -- the largest crowd the Orioles have played in front of all season -- gives Baltimore its first playoff win since Oct. 13, 1997, against Cleveland and made the O's storybook season that much sweeter.

"It just says a lot about this team, all the heart, and I'm just so thankful to be a part of it. ... Its a special experience," Saunders told TBS' Craig Sager following the Orioles' celebration on the field.

Saunders, who entered Friday with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark, shined in a gutty 5 2/3-innings outing. Using three double plays -- tying a club postseason record -- Saunders never had a clean frame but managed to keep a lethal Texas lineup in check. The first pitcher in Major League history to start a postseason game at a ballpark in which he is 0-6 or worse in his career, Saunders held Rangers sluggers Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre hitless in six at-bats.

"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."

The Orioles got on the board before Saunders took the mound, but the Rangers evened the score in the first on Josh Hamilton's double-play ball, which scored Ian Kinsler, who led off with a walk. Manager Buck Showalter had right-hander Steve Johnson warming up after the first two batters reached base, but Saunders escaped the inning with only one run allowed.

"It was a little dicey in the first inning, walking Kinsler to lead off, and then just got a big double play," Saunders said. "I just kept telling myself, 'Hey, minimize damage. Keep us in the game.' I got some big double plays against a really great team. Hat's off to our defense, and we got some really clutch hits."

He worked his way out of trouble again in the fourth, allowing a pair of one-out singles to put runners on the corners. But Saunders -- who lived on the outside corner -- struck out Mike Napoli for the second time and got Geovany Soto to ground out to keep the game tied, 1-1.

Acquired in an August trade with Arizona, Saunders -- who grew up an Orioles fan in Virginia -- threw 77 pitches (46 strikes) and scattered six hits and a walk with four strikeouts.