As sad as the possibility was of Sunday being the last time Adam Jones and Buck Showalter don Orioles colors at Camden Yards — as distinct an end to this era as there can be — there was still one final game to be played, and many of the components in their home whites will be back in Baltimore come April.
And thanks to them, the Orioles won at Camden Yards, 4-0, over a playoff-bound Houston Astros team. Every pitch thrown in the one-hit shutout, and every hit collected by an Oriole was by a player who can reasonably claim to be part of the Orioles' immediate future, and they can all go home after Sunday with the knowledge that at least this one went their way.
Absent a hit for Jones, and he was cheered no fewer than 10 times throughout the day, no one could have asked for anything more.
“There was a lot of contributions,” Showalter said. “A good way to end a disappointing season, to say the least, for a lot of the young guys we've counted on quickly to contribute.”
It began with the Astros (103-59), eager to get home and prepare for their playoff showdown with the Cleveland Indians, swinging early and often. Jimmy Yacabonis, pitching on three days of rest after throwing 81 pitches Wednesday night in Boston, retired the first six batters he faced on 13 pitches. He worked around a walk and a hit batter for a scoreless third inning, and got a double play on a line drive to left fielder DJ Stewart to end the fourth after allowing a single and a walk to start that inning.
Then came the fun part for the Orioles (47-115), who even with this win finished holding the league’s worst record and were tied for the fourth-most losses by any team in the modern era. Jonathan Villar, one of three players acquired July 31 for Jonathan Schoop and penciled into one of the middle-infield spots for 2019 and beyond, doubled to open the inning, stole third base uncontested, and scored on a single by Trey Mancini — who for one at-bat reverted to his rookie form and came through with a man in scoring position, something that's eluded him in 2018.
Mancini hauled around the bases from first to make it 2-0 on a double by designated hitter Tim Beckham, and Beckham scored on a double by Renato Núñez, a May waiver claim who held down the starting third base spot in the second half of the season with every reason to believe he will again come spring.
Then, Stewart, a rookie who has more than held his own since being called up Sept. 12, singled to push Núñez to third. Núñez scored when Stewart stole second and the throw went into center field.
“You always want to finish the season on a strong note, and that’s what we did,” Yacabonis said. “It definitely gives all the guys in here a lot of confidence, and for myself, this year has been quite the learning experience, so you apply those things to the offseason.”
Yacabonis exited with a 2.61 ERA in September, lowering his ERA this season to 5.40. Paul Fry, who emerged as one of the Orioles’ most reliable relievers, took over for Yacabonis and retired all nine batters who came up against him over three innings of relief, then turned the ball over to Mychal Givens, who set down all six batters he faced — but not before Showalter pulled Jones for one last ovation.
“Paul Fry was great,” Showalter said. “He's a guy that's really made a dent in things here. He's showed the ability to get left- and right-handed hitters out. He's been fun to watch. He's run through the door of opportunity. And Yac was good. ... Mychal, very quietly, Mychal's finished strong. I think some of the best command of his fastball that I've seen all year, probably his last seven to 10 outings. He really looks like a pitcher, and just under control. The last month, he's made me feel a lot better about where he's headed.”
Said Yacabonis: “It was pretty cool. That was a good effort from all three of us, and just a good game all-around, especially from the pitching side. It was pretty special.”