The Orioles played their final game of the season this afternoon against the Red Sox, a 7-6 win that saw them end their season with 85 wins and in third place (if the Yankees/Astros score holds, they'll end tied with New York). The game had been labeled meaningless before it started. No matter what happened the Orioles were going home and the Red Sox were going to the ALDS with home field advantage as long as they last in the playoffs. But to the 44,230 fans who packed the stadium to say goodbye to their team, the game wasn't meaningless at all.
I won't try to paint a picture of fans who bought tickets to see the third-place Orioles and cheer them on one more time. Thanks to the fact that the Boston Red Sox were in town and that it was Chris Davis bobblehead day, this game has been a hot ticket for months. But the fact remains that no matter what happened, the Orioles weren't going to close out the season in front of a half-empty stadium and apathetic crowd. It was great to see and made the game a lot more fun to have fans hanging on every play.
There had been talk of shutting down Chris Tillman, who crossed 200 innings pitched in his last start, and after seeing the way the game started it seemed like maybe that would have been a good idea. Tillman gave up two runs in each of the first two innings, thanks in part to something he always struggles with: home runs. The very first hitter of the day, Jacoby Ellsbury, gave the Red Sox a 1-0 lead with a home run. A single by David Ortiz and double by Mike Napoli put the Sox ahead 2-0.
The Red Sox second two runs came on a two-run homer by Quintin Berry, AKA Adam Jones' BFF. Berry was the ninth-place hitter for the Red Sox and his first home run of the season came with John McDonald on base.
In the top of the fourth inning the Red Sox scored a run in a most unfortunate fashion. With one out, Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a ground ball to Chris Davis at first base. Davis had a play but it deflected off of his glove. It was scored a hit (although it probably shouldn't have been). The next batter singled to left field, then after Berry struck out, Ellsbury hit a ground ball that went just a few feet in front of the plate. Catcher Steve Clevenger threw the ball to first and as Davis reached to catch it, Ellsbury collided with his gloved hand. The ball came lose and Saltalamacchia scored in the commotion.
The second that he was hit, Davis dropped his glove and grabbed his wrist. He was examined by the trainer and attempted to play a little bit of catch, but had to come out of the game with a sprained left wrist. Not a fun way to end the season, but at least the Orioles don't need him to play tomorrow. He was replaced by Ryan Flaherty.
Allen Webster started the game for the Red Sox in place of John Lackey, and it looked like he might fall apart in the first inning. He walked the first two batters, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, on nine pitches, then after striking out J.J. Hardy he walked Chris Davis to load the bases. The Orioles couldn't capitalize, though, as Steve Pearce popped out on the first pitch and Nate McLouth grounded into a force out.
After that the O's offense disappeared for awhile and they went into the fifth inning without a hit. Felix Doubront had come on to pitch for the Red Sox in the fourth inning, and in the fifth he fell apart. Dpubront faced eight batters and retired just one of them. The crushing blows were doubles by Hardy and McLouth, both of which knocked in two runs. The fifth run in the innings scored on a single by Ryan Flaherty that fell just beyond shortstop Xander Bogaerts reach in shallow left field.
After McLouth's double, Doubront was replaced by Rubby De La Rosa, who got the final two outs and stranded Pearce and McLouth at third and second base.
The O's went ahead to stay in the sixth inning. Jonathan Schoop singled to left field and Brian Roberts hit a classic B-Rob double (last one ever?) to right-center field. Schoop came in to score on a wild pitch and with Roberts on third base, Markakis and Hardy grounded out. But Flaherty, batting cleanup in place of the injured Davis, singled to right field to give the Orioles an insurance run.
Tillman came out of the game after five innings and was replaced by T.J. McFarland. McFarland was shaky, loading the bases on a single and two walks, but he induced a ground ball from David Ortiz for the final out of the sixth inning. Jason Hammel pitched the seventh and eighth innings with just one single.
Armed with a two-run lead, closer Jim Johnson came in looking to get his 50th save of the season. He was ultimately successful, but there was some trouble (I know you're shocked). He struck out Bogaerts, but then gave up three consecutive singles, the last of which knocked in the Red Sox sixth run of the day. The Red Sox had runners on first and third with one out, and it seemed as though the Orioles might play their final game of the season with a blown Jim Johnson save. It would have been fitting, don't you think?
Thankfully, that's not what happened. Will Middlebrooks hit a grounder to Danny Valencia at third base, who started a 5-4-3 double play to end the game. Game over! Season over, as well.
It wasn't the season we hoped for after the magic of 2012. But it wasn't a bad season either. The Orioles finished with 85 wins, eight less than last year. As many things went right for them in 2012 went wrong for them in 2013, but you can't deny that they have a talented team. Here's to a second consecutive winning season and a foundation on which to build the 2014 team. Cheers, O's fans.