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Orioles clinch 1st AL East title since 2014, reach 100 wins with 2-0 victory over Red Sox

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Dean Kremer’s arrival six years ago signaled the beginning of the Orioles’ rebuild. His performance Thursday night helped deliver the club’s biggest win since.

Behind the calm Kremer, the Orioles defeated the Boston Red Sox, 2-0, to win their 100th game of the season and clinch the franchise’s first American League East title since 2014. In the most important start of his life, Kremer pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings, needing only Anthony Santander’s solo home run in the first and a steady bullpen behind him for the victory.

As the tight game neared an end, the 27,543 fans at Camden Yards grew progressively more animated. When Tyler Wells recorded the final out, they made the park shake in a way it rarely has the past six years.

The last time the Orioles won 100 games was in 1980. The division title is just their third in the past 40 seasons. Baltimore will enter the postseason as the AL’s top team, earning a bye in the wild-card round and home-field advantage through at least the AL Championship Series.

The monumental win — and Kremer’s hand in it — serves as a full-circle moment for the Orioles and the right-hander.

Six summers ago, Baltimore traded superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a haul of prospects amid a historically futile season. The trade kicked off a rebuilding process that spanned five seasons, three of which ended with at least 108 losses.

Kremer wasn’t the gem of the Orioles’ return, but he turned out to be the best player Baltimore received. That doesn’t mean his path to Thursday’s win was easy.

After debuting in 2020, the right-hander opened the 2021 season in the major leagues. But he was battered all over the yard and optioned to Triple-A, ending the year with a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts for an Orioles club that lost 110 games. He was hurt to begin the 2022 season, but he returned to a vastly different team in June. As Kremer began hitting his stride as a young pitcher, so did the youthful Orioles, emerging last summer as a wild-card contender.

They’ve taken the next step this year, and Kremer has handled the two most important games of the season with aplomb. Earlier this month, he pitched five innings of one-run ball in the Orioles’ win over the Tampa Bay Rays to clinch the club’s first playoff berth since 2016. On Thursday, he was even better, striking out eight and allowing just two hits, for his 13th win of the season.

Kremer, perhaps more than any other Oriole, personifies this team — a young player, but one who also survived the rebuild. As he matured, so did the team. And when the lights were brightest this year, he delivered.

“You look back the last three or four years with Dean, he dealt with some adversity,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the game. “He’s been optioned down. He got hurt last year at the beginning of the year. I’m really impressed with him, honestly. He has really matured, not only as a pitcher, but as a teammate and everything else.

“So, yeah, he’s grown up.”

Following Kremer was a bullpen that’s largely struggled since closer Félix Bautista partially tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in late August. But DL Hall, Yennier Cano, Cionel Pérez and Wells handled the pressure just as unwaveringly as Kremer, combining to pitch 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Baltimore’s seemingly unflappable pitching staff has surrendered just three runs in its past five games.

Santander’s solo home run off Red Sox starter Chris Sale was the switch-hitter’s 28th of the season. The only other run of the game came in the eighth inning on pinch-hitter Heston Kjerstad’s bloop single that scored Adam Frazier to give Wells extra breathing room.

The AL East title is one that seemed impossible two years ago when the Orioles lost 110 games. During those dark days, though, they saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I knew what we had,” left-hander John Means said. “I knew what the goal was, and we were making all the right moves. Maybe at this level, it was hard to see, but I think when you look down at the lower levels, you saw what was coming and what we were ready for.

“I’m not surprised, to be honest, but to be here now, it’s so special.”

But even entering this season, FanGraphs’ projection system gave Baltimore just a 1.3% chance to win the division.

It’s 100% now.

This story will be updated.

Red Sox at Orioles

Friday, 7:05 p.m.

TV: MASN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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