Well-rested Matt Wieters powers Orioles to playoffs

NEW YORK -- Matt Wieters knew better than to stay up too late on Saturday night. As a result, he and the Baltimore Orioles are partying Sunday night.

Following Saturday afternoon’s disappointing loss to the New York Yankees, in which the O’s blew a late lead and lost the chance to clinch a postseason berth, Wieters admitted he’d be paying close attention to Saturday night’s games, including the Oakland Athletics-Seattle Mariners matchup. But prior to the season finale Sunday in New York, the 30-year-old catcher revealed he didn’t make it all the way through the wild A's-Mariners game, which went extra innings and lasted more than four hours. Instead, he opted to shut it down after Nelson Cruz's game-tying homer in the seventh. The decision to doze off paid huge dividends.

On a cool, gray Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, Wieters crushed a pair of two-run bombs to lead the Orioles to a 5-1 wild card-clinching win. Batting left-handed against Yanks starter Luis Cessa in the top of the fourth inning, Wieters turned on a fastball and deposited it into the second deck in right field to gave Baltimore a 3-0 lead.

Batting right-handed against southpaw reliever Tommy Layne in the sixth inning, Weiters wrapped another fastball around the left-field foul pole for another two-run homer. With the pair of blasts, Baltimore’s backstop became the first O’s player in 20 years to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. Roberto Alomar last did it on July 25, 1996, against Cleveland. More importantly, Wieters helped the Birds get back to the postseason.

“It's a great achievement,” said Wieters, wearing a charcoal T-shirt with the words “Made for October” on the front. As he spoke reliever Darren O’Day sprayed him with champagne while Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” thumped throughout the clubhouse. “We had to play down to 162, and we played every one of those games. We'll relish it tonight. This is the greatest feeling you can have as a baseball player, part of a team celebration in the clubhouse. Nothing better than this.”

Given that the celebration wasn’t showing any signs of letting up, it’s a good thing Wieters got his sleep on Saturday night. For that, he can thank his expanded family.

“I have a 4-year-old and a 4-week-old at home,” said Wieters, who in August welcomed baby boy Micah to go along with older brother Maverick. “So, anytime I can get eight hours in on the road, I try to get it. It didn’t matter whether I was watching that Seattle game -- I wasn't controlling anything.”

On Sunday though, he controlled quite a bit. Besides driving in four runs and going yard from both sides of the plate for the first time in his career, Wieters helped Kevin Gausman silence a potent Yankees lineup that exploded for seven runs a day earlier. The 25-year-old righty continued his dominance over New York, pitching into the eighth inning and allowing just two runs on eight hits, while walking one. Gausman is now 6-3 with a 1.92 ERA against the Yanks in his career, including 3-1 with a 1.10 ERA this season. But for all his impressive outings against New York, it was Sunday’s clutch outing that looms largest.

“Kevin looked like a guy that wanted the ball,” manager Buck Showalter said, not long before getting absolutely doused by a champagne shower from his players. “He's had that body language of that guy. I say to the minor league scouts all the time, does he have ‘it’? And they all know what we're talking about. Kevin's graduated to the right part of the process. He's been fun to watch. We needed him today and he delivered.”

Gausman wasn’t the only one who came through. Despite starting his sixth game in six days, Wieters -- whose playing time has been closely monitored as he continues to recover from 2014 Tommy John surgery -- was fresh.

“Matt's had that competitive edge for about 10 days -- not that he didn’t have it before,” said Showalter of Wieters, who signed a one-year qualifying offer last offseason and will become a free agent at the end of this season. “Keep in mind, he just caught a night game, day game, and when I asked him how he was feeling, he was like, ‘Really? I'm playing.’ This guy overcame surgery. When you get in times like this, you realize how much Matt means to the club and to this organization.”

In Game 162, that value was crystal-clear. Just like the champagne that Wieters was getting drenched with as he tried to talk.

“We’ll enjoy this tonight,” he said, “and move forward to the postseason.”

Even though they’ll have to travel Toronto for the wild-card game, given the way that Wieters and the Orioles have been playing lately, the Jays better not sleep on them.