It’s always better if the Orioles win their last game of the year rather than lose it because that means our last memory of the team headed into the offseason is a good one and not a bad one. The O’s achieved this on Sunday afternoon, triumphing against the Toronto Blue Jays in their regular season finale in Buffalo, 7-5.
The Orioles close out the year 25-35, a pace in a typical 162 game season good for 65 wins, if you round to the nearest whole number. That’s better than what most people expected from this crew back in February. They have won 16 more games than all the July jokesters who wondered if they could even hit double digit wins thought they could win. It’s not every season where you can (sort of) rebuke the haters and still set up a top 5 pick in the next year’s draft.
Keegan Akin, the starter for the season finale, came into the game having the Magnum ERA (3.57) and a solid start to close out his campaign would have been a nice thing for fans to carry into the offseason. O’s fans will have to settle for the win without getting a good outing from Akin.
Also on the bright side: Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins closed things out with multi-hit games, with both of the Mullins hits being triples. Mullins’ performance bumped his 2020 batting line up to .271/.315/.407, which is fine for a center fielder who plays good defense. Mountcastle’s .333/.386/.496 also feels great, and by the way, he’ll still carry rookie eligibility into the 2021 season, so maybe O’s fans will get to hope for a 2021 Rookie of the Year award.
The game began somewhat stupidly, with the Orioles failing to score in the top of the first inning despite loading the bases with one out. Missing out on the “man on third, less than two outs” scoring opportunities was a common refrain from the 2020 O’s. Once the bases were loaded, Rio Ruiz hit a harmless pop-up. A scream of “FUCK!” that presumably belonged to Ruiz was audible on the MASN broadcast. It is tough to find any fault with his self-assessment. Hanser Alberto grounded out to end the inning.
Akin waited until the second inning to start having problems. Back-to-back hits to start the bottom of the inning set up the Jays with men on second and third with no one out. The Jays, unlike the Orioles, were able to capitalize on the chance. With one out, Jays outfielder Jonathan Davis, who just the previous inning robbed Cedric Mullins of a home run to keep the Orioles off the board, delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Jays an early 1-0 lead.
The O’s didn’t waste any time in tying up the contest. Austin Hays led off the third with a single, and after advancing on two groundouts, scored on Renato Nunez’s double. Buck Showalter used to talk about the “POFO” (productive outs for Orioles) and they can still exist now that he is gone. They helped the Orioles cash in that first run.
The game did not stay tied for very long. The bottom of the inning saw the O’s fall back down in a hole after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. touched off a bomb to center field with two outs. Noted Oriole killer Randal Grichuk followed with a single, then scored when Gurriel added his own long dinger that headed for out beyond left field for the interstate on-ramp that takes you towards Niagara Falls.
Two home runs in one inning will harsh the buzz. The O’s trailed 4-1, and Akin was done with four runs allowed in three innings. Akin entered with the Magnum ERA and exited with a Learning To Count ERA (4.56). It could have gone better for him.
Fortunately for the Orioles, the Jays did not play like a team that was terribly interested in potentially seizing a higher postseason seed. They entered the final day with a chance to pull ahead of the Yankees, if they won and the Yankees lost. The Yanks were blanked by the Marins, so the Jays had their chance, but they played poorly, with lackadaisical outfield defense, occasional dopey baserunning, and 1-7 batting with runners in scoring positions. Too bad, so sad.
As the Orioles did the first time the Jays took a lead, they tied it right back up. The top of the fourth saw Alberto benefit from a three base error when Grichuk had a line drive ricochet off the top of his glove and back to the fence. Pat Valaika walked with one out, and both of these men scored when Mullins hit his first triple of the game. Hays dipped into the POFO well for a sacrifice fly to score Mullins. This is what tied the game up at 4.
Four runs in four innings chased Jays starter Tanner Roark from the game. Things didn’t go any better for reliever Shun Yamaguchi, who allowed the Orioles to take the lead before recording an out. Ruiz made up for his earlier mistake by hitting a double to score the go-ahead run. The O’s plated two more in the inning before it ended when Valaika was thrown out while trying to steal second base. For the season, the Orioles were successful in only 19 of 33 attempts. That’s a pathetic 57.6% success rate. They need to do a lot better with that or else stop trying to steal bases.
Given a 7-4 lead, the Orioles bullpen was up to the task of holding on for the rest of the game. Travis Lakins picked up the win with two scoreless innings, followed by Paul Fry and Hunter Harvey combining for another two scoreless innings. The run the Jays scored off of Shawn Armstrong in the eighth was unearned; Mountcastle had stone hands trying to catch a throw to first that would have ended the inning. Cesar Valdez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
This was not a good Orioles season, but it turned out better than expected, and that’s not nothing. Fans can go into the offseason hoping that some of the positives from this season can mean there will be a better team in 2021. The next Orioles game is scheduled for six months and five days away. For now, pick your least hated of the 16 (sheesh) MLB postseason teams and see how they do in the playoffs. Stay safe out there.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for September 27, 2020?
This poll is closed
Cesar Valdez (fun 2020 story)
Cedric Mullins (two triples and nearly a homer)
Renato Nunez (two hits and a walk)