No, the Orioles didn't clinch the pennant, but they had plenty of things to celebrate. Baltimore went into Thursday's game with the longest losing streak in the big leagues this season and came within one loss of the worst road trip in team history, but it managed to pull out a win and strand the potential tying run at third base.
The O's had led for most of the game, but that didn't stop the Rays from making a late charge. Tampa Bay started the ninth with a leadoff double and managed to make it a one-run game on a sacrifice fly. Gregg Zaun singled a runner to third with two outs, but Jim Johnson got a bouncer back to the box to end the threat.
"Can you have a bigger victory?" asked Johnson in the game's aftermath. "We only have 61 wins, right? It's just good to finally break that losing streak."
And after the victory, Trembley had to gather himself to make sure it was really happening.
"I sensed like time stood still for 15 seconds. I had to let it just sink in for a while," he said. "We've made it really difficult, but you'll remember this one more so than the other ones. You'll remember this one a little bit more for all the circumstances that led up to getting it. Nobody gives you anything in life, and certainly nobody gives you anything in this game. You've got to earn it. It has been an experience I'd rather not have to duplicate."
And in practice, it's a victory that would be hard to repeat. Baltimore had gone 0-9 on its road trip before Thursday's finale and sent Chris Waters -- a pitcher who hadn't started a game in the big leagues this season -- to the hill. Waters had spent most of the season as a reliever, but on this night, it didn't matter.
Waters (1-0) had the Rays (82-77) in his back pocket for much of the night, and the only offense he allowed was a solo home run to Ben Zobrist in the fourth inning. The left-hander stranded a runner at third base in the second inning, and he managed to strand two walks in the fourth on a fly ball from catcher Dioner Navarro.
"Any time you can come in and prove you can get big league hitters out, it definitely gives you confidence," he said.
"It's last my start of the year and a good one to end on, possibly a blueprint for 2010."
The Orioles (61-98) got on the board in the first inning, courtesy of a double by Cesar Izturis and a two-out single from Nick Markakis. Baltimore came back in the fourth against opposing starter Matt Garza, using a run-scoring single from Melvin Mora and a two-out hit from Jeff Fiorentino to push ahead by three runs.
The Rays used Zobrist's home run to cut into the lead but weren't able to make the game really interesting until the game's final moments. Zobrist -- who batted .407 with seven home runs against Baltimore this season -- doubled in the ninth and spurred Trembley to refer to him as one of the game's all-time greats.
"[Waters] stayed away from the middle of the plate except to Babe Ruth," said Trembley. "I'm glad that's over with. I thought [Ruth] was no longer out there, but he's been reincarnated against us this year."
Johnson, who had converted just two of his previous five save opportunities, came up with some big pitches when he needed them. The right-hander got B.J. Upton to foul out behind home plate, and he came back later to retire Pat Burrell on a routine fly ball to right field. Still, after Zaun's hit, he had a slim margin of error.
The 26-year-old fell behind Akinori Iwamura, but he battled back to an even count before the payoff pitch. Iwamura hit a one-bounce ball right back to the mound, and Johnson made an easy throw to first to seal his ninth save. Still, Johnson said that he had to really bear down after allowing a leadoff double to Zobrist.
"That's kind of the mind game you've got to play with yourself," he said. "Obviously, things have not been going my way over the last month or so, but you have to forget about it real quick, because you have to really focus on getting that guy -- whoever it is -- out at that point in time instead of worrying about what happened last week."
"It really wasn't that bad considering everything else we've gone through," added Trembley of the dramatic endgame. "I thought the ninth inning was a piece of cake. I don't know how many times we've had a lead going into the ninth. [Jeez], I felt like it was a done deal, [but] we weren't packing the bats in the top of the ninth. I thought it was a pretty basic formula there in the ninth compared to what we've been going through here for two weeks."