The stage was set for an afternoon of drama in Major League Baseball. For whatever else you can say about the Orioles, you can say this: They played their part perfectly to increase the drama. The problem for Orioles fans is simply that the O’s part was to lose and keep hopes for the Jays and for a Game 163 tiebreaker scenario alive. The Orioles obliged by getting their butts kicked, 12-4.
The outcome was never in doubt. Blue Jays leadoff man George Springer hit a home run to start the bottom of the first inning. Sometimes an Orioles starting pitcher, in this case Bruce Zimmermann, is able to settle down after such a beginning. Zimmermann did not do this, failing to complete the first inning while allowing three runs. Few good things happen after Marcos Diplán is summoned in the first inning, and indeed, few good things happened.
The three first inning runs would have been enough for Toronto, as it turned out, but as we all know after a season of watching the 2021 Orioles, eight innings of bullpen is probably not going to hold the line at three runs allowed. Diplán allowed two runs in the second inning. The reliever parade continued: Eric Hanhold, Joey Krehbiel, Dillon Tate, Conner Greene. There are no inspiring names in the Orioles bullpen, but these are among the least inspiring even so.
It took until Tate pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings for an Orioles pitcher to keep the Blue Jays off the board. At least someone can take something positive into the offseason. Hanhold was bombed for four runs in one inning, the damage all done on one swing as Springer hit a grand slam for his second home run of the game.
Springer has been the Jays difference-maker. They’re 48-30 when he plays and 43-41 when he doesn’t. He finished the season with 22 home runs in 78 games. That’s a heck of a pace over a full season, though as it turns out, two of his teammates hit even more in the whole season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. victimized Diplán in the second inning for his 48th home run of the year, giving him a tie for the MLB lead. Krehbiel was touched up by second baseman Marcus Semien for #45, the new record for a second baseman in a season.
With the Orioles getting blown out from the get-go, there was little to be interested in for this game. Anyone tuning in from outside of Birdland probably went off to one of the other games that was made more dramatic by the certainty of a Toronto win. The Jays had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Unlike the Red Sox against the Orioles not long ago, the Jays did what had to be done.
I amused myself throughout the game by wondering if this was going to be the final time seeing a particular brand of failure from a particular brand of “this guy’s only getting playing time on a crappy rebuilding team” player.
Was this game the final time I will have to watch Pat Valaika? He had a play in this game where he was running back to catch a blooper and made a final lunge in the wrong direction from the ball. Was it the end of the line for Richie Martin? Martin failed at bunting for a base hit while the Orioles trailed by five runs. He also had a play where he showed nice range by getting to a ball deep in the shortstop hole, then desperately tried to fire a throw to first base that bounced off the ground before it had even passed the pitcher’s mound.
Or is this the end of the line for Pedro Severino? The catcher closed out his season full of defensive misdeeds by allowing a wild pitch on a ball that any competent catcher should have caught. Severino’s season ends with 66 wild pitches plus ten passed balls allowed. It’s bad. With Adley Rutschman on the cusp of MLB, I don’t want to see Severino as an Oriole again.
You probably have your own guys you don’t want to see any more. Maybe we’ll get what we want and see some different guys failing in those spots next year. Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Trey Mancini might be the only O’s from today’s game I actively want to see again. Or if you really want to dream, imagine some different guys finding success. Kelvin Gutierrez ended up with three hits, so that’s nice for him.
Just about the only fun thing that happened for the Orioles in the game was Tyler Nevin getting his first MLB home run. Nevin launched an absolute moonshot off of Jays starter Hyun Jin Ryu, soaring majestically at an angle of 32 degrees into the fourth row of seats in the Toronto stadium. The estimated Statcast distance on this beautiful bomb was 442 feet. At the time, this made the score 5-1 in favor of the Jays. It got worse.
Elsewhere in MLB, the Yankees-Rays game was the first significant one to conclude. The Yankees won, 1-0, in a walkoff, ending any chance of a four-way tiebreaker scenario. The Orioles loss finished next, leaving the Blue Jays in the mix for a few minutes, anyway. The Nationals blew a 5-1 lead against the Red Sox and eventually lost 7-5. That game’s conclusion extinguished hopes for the Mariners, who were losing when the Red Sox score went final anyway.
After all the potential excitement, it’s going to be a Red Sox-Yankees AL Wild Card Game. There will be no tiebreaker game. New York and Boston tied at 92-70 and the Red Sox host by virtue of a better head-to-head record this season. That’s the bad news. The good news is that one of those teams will lose and be out of the postseason with the same number of playoff wins as the 2021 Orioles team. Maybe the Red Sox fans will even pay a bunch of money to watch their team lose.
At the bottom of the MLB standings, the Diamondbacks walked off the Rockies in their final game with a 5-4 victory. This means that the Orioles and Diamondbacks end their seasons with identical 52-110 records. The two teams also had the same record in 2020 at 25-35, but the O’s won only 54 games in 2019 while Arizona won 85. Unless rules change as the expiring CBA is replaced by a new one, that’s the tiebreaker and the Orioles get the #1 pick next June.
The next regular season Orioles game will be between these two teams on March 31, 2022. I hope the lineup and pitching staff each have fewer bad players in them between now and then, but I won’t be holding my breath.