By the time the crowd erupted and the champagne was sprayed Thursday night, the first acts of the rebuild seemed like a distant memory.

But it was in 2018 when the Orioles, in the midst of a 100-loss season, decided to tear it all down and start from scratch. They traded their beloved stars, starting with Manny Machado, so new ones could come in and forge their own paths.

And it all started with Dean Kremer.

He didn’t know much about the Orioles when, on a mid-July day over a week before the 2018 deadline, he was sent to the Baltimore organization along with four other Dodgers prospects.

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Now, he’ll forever be a part of the Orioles’ legacy.

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer (64) returns to the dugout after pitching during a baseball game against the Boston Rex Sox on Thursday, September 28, 2023.
Orioles starter Dean Kremer was the winning pitcher in Thursday night's clincher. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Kremer was a West Coast kid, a California native playing in a Dodgers farm system with only Western teams. He didn’t grow up going to Camden Yards and didn’t follow the Orioles at all. But he knew, of course, who Manny Machado was. And he understood right away the importance of the trade.

Two 100-loss seasons would follow, the playoffs seeming like a faraway dream. There were dark days and empty seats, doubt seeping into minds that a day like Thursday would ever come again.

The Orioles, though, had a plan, one that Kremer was part of from the start. He wasn’t the headliner of that trade. But, five years later, he’s the only one who remains.

Other moves would follow and top draft picks would be acquired as the pieces of this team slowly started to come together. Kremer is no longer just a part of the Machado deal. He is now the starter who led them to a win on Sept. 17, the day the Orioles clinched their first playoff berth since 2016.

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Right fielder Anthony Santander receives high-fives in the dugout after his first-inning home run put the Orioles ahead to stay. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

On Thursday, Kremer again took the mound. He’s been inconsistent this season, but he has been on when they needed him most. This time he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings as the Orioles beat the Red Sox 2-0 to win the American League East, their first division title since 2014.

“We apologize to the fans for the three years after that trade,” Kremer said. “But after that, I mean, this is a special group. I’d die for any one of these guys. There’s not one ego in here that would leave a bad taste in your mouth. These guys are great.”

Kremer and this team have their own legacy now. They had been building to this, drafting and developing, trading and claiming off waivers, for the past five years. The rebuild is behind them.

And this was only the start.

“Nobody gave us a chance at the start of this year. Nobody,” manager Brandon Hyde said as his pupils, wide-eyed and holding shaken champagne bottles ready to explode, listened intently.

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They partied on from there, a tamer reaction than the day they clinched the postseason but still a celebration worthy of the occasion.

They know this was just Step 2. How many more steps there will be is up to them.

From here, they head to the playoffs as the top seed in the American League. They will skip the first round and host the first game of the American League Division Series on Oct. 7 against the winner of the No. 4 and No. 5 seed wild-card series.

“You know this division is so daunting, I never thought, ‘OK, we’ll be winning a division title in X number of years,’” general manager Mike Elias said. “We were focused on getting to the playoffs and being relevant again, Step 1. But this team is so special, they just brought us up a level.”

This Orioles team doesn’t have a big star or an expensive free agent. They were put together from the ground up, only four players remaining on the major league roster from before that 2018 trade. Anthony Santander is one of them. He hit a solo home run in the first, the only run the Orioles would need Thursday.

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“It was all worth it,” he said of the dark days, cigar in his mouth as he took in the room around him.

They used DL Hall, a first-round draft pick, and Yennier Cano, a trade acquisition, out of the bullpen. Cionel Perez, a waiver pick-up, also came out in relief.

The final three outs were left to Tyler Wells, a Rule 5 draft selection. He was their best starter of the first half but was optioned shortly after due to arm fatigue.

He missed the first celebration. He needed only 10 pitches to guarantee he wasn’t going to have to watch another from afar.

When the final out was secured, Wells clenched his fists and waited for the swarm of teammates to meet him to celebrate.

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“There’s no one who’s more invested in this team than he is,” catcher Adley Rutschman said. “And he deserves it, man. He’s fought tooth and nail every single time he goes out there. He’s a bulldog.”

This team was built for this moment. It’s postseason fate now confirmed and scheduled, it will get to see just what its legacy will be.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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