The last game of the 2019 Orioles season may not have been a perfect encapsulation of the year, but it came pretty dang close. After unexpectedly decent starting pitching, a clutch offensive rally erasing one bad bullpen outing, and a little highlight-reel defense, the Orioles ultimately lost their final game to the Red Sox, a walkoff loss where a runner on first base scored on a single to right field. No, really.
The loss seals that the Orioles finished this whole season without ever once sweeping an opponent in a series. It is an almost unbelievable feat. Even last year’s Orioles, who won seven fewer games, did not do this. A sweep of the Red Sox would have kept the 2019 Orioles with a better record than the 1988 Orioles. Alas, the walkoff sends this team into the history books with a 54-108 record, one loss worse than the 1988 O’s.
Before the gruesome details of yet another loss, we all need to take a minute to appreciate the re-emergence of Stevie “Dr. Poo Poo” Wilkerson as a source of something amazing:
At the exact moment Wilkerson soared into the air to make what might well have dethroned Austin Hays for the Orioles home run robbery of the season, the Orioles and the Red Sox were tied, 4-4, and a man was on first base, in the bottom of the eighth inning. He saved the game, for a few minutes at least.
It was amazing. Mychal Givens, whose bacon had already been saved one batter earlier when Jonathan Villar snagged a no-out liner and doubled a runner off of third base, reacted with a “Fuck yeah!” I could not believe it, all the moreso because earlier in the game I was grumpy about Wilkerson’s defense in right field when he turned a routine lineout into a triple that eventually led to the first Boston run scoring in the game.
The 2019 Orioles being the 2019 Orioles, this play is not what anyone will take away from the game. Neither will be the tenacious eighth inning rally of bloopers and seeing-eye singles where the O’s tied the game to take Eduardo Rodriguez off the hook of what would have been his 20th win of the season.
Instead, the play that almost defines the season on its own was the walkoff. The O’s called on Dillon Tate to try to send the game into extra innings. This was very 2019 Orioles in and of itself, as Tate had a 6.00 ERA when the day began. It probably was not an Evan Meek-like gift to end the game, though it played out that way, especially once Tate walked the first batter he saw, Mookie Betts.
The next batter, Rafael Devers, smoked a single to the right side of the infield. There was the potential for this ball to be a double-play ball if it had been fielded cleanly, except for the fact that, with the shift on, no one was at second base to receive a throw. In any case, the ball was not fielded cleanly, ricocheting off of Richie Martin’s glove and into right field, where it dribbled in the general direction of Wilkerson.
Betts, apparently paying more attention than the Orioles defenders, never shut off the jets, motoring around second, around third, and sliding into home for what would have been a walkoff play at the plate if only the ball had been anywhere near home at that moment. Wilkerson was probably not as fast as he could have in getting to the ball, so it was not. What it was, instead, was one of the stupidest ways to possibly lose a baseball game, and that is the last, freshest memory for all of us, and for the O’s themselves, to take into the offseason.
The Orioles actually led the game, 3-0, after putting up three runs in the third inning. Wilkerson led off the inning with a walk, the first O’s runner of the game, and safely slid into second ahead of a throw when the Sox defense bungled a Martin bunt.
Hanser Alberto drove in a run with a single, Austin Hays drove in another with a double, and Trey Mancini scored a third when the Sox defense again had a botch, as their drawn-in infield did not prove sufficient to cut off the run at the plate. They had to settle for getting out Hays on a tag play at third.
The Orioles again being the Orioles, they started giving back the runs right away, beginning with Wilkerson’s awful misplay of a routine liner into a triple. Later in that inning, Wilkerson bobbled the exchange on ground ball into right field, leading to a Sox run scoring. On balance, it wasn’t his day at all, but man, that home run robbery was so good, I can’t be mad.
The starter, Chandler Shepherd, was adequate, giving up just those two runs - and only one earned - through five innings. With only 81 pitches, he came out for the sixth inning and was removed after walking the first batter there.
From there, Shawn Armstrong pulled off the classic 2019 Orioles non-relief outing, giving up a single, a walk, and a single to score the tying run and leave the bases loaded with nobody out. Evan Phillips was summoned to salvage this disaster-in-progress and, amazingly, did so, with an infield grounder turning into an out at the plate, an infield fly freezing all runners, then a strikeout to close it out.
If that was the final word to be written about Phillips this year, that would have been nice for him, as he would have closed out the year with seven straight scoreless outings. He also pitched the seventh, though, and Devers and Xander Bogaerts turned a couple of hanging breaking balls into a go-ahead run for the Red Sox. Since the O’s knotted the game up again afterwards, Phillips did not stay on the hook for the loss for long.
So ends the 2019 season. Sometimes it was fun but mostly it really sucked. Maybe next season things will start to come together a little better and they won’t lose 100+ games again. Probably they will, though.