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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles split doubleheader with Blue Jays to cap first winning season since 2016

Early Wednesday morning, sitting in the bowels of Camden Yards, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias admitted the Orioles’ strongest season since his arrival “crept up” on him and those on the field.

This was all ahead of schedule. Next season, Elias wants Baltimore to be a playoff team, competing in the difficult American League East for free-agent signings as well as wins. They’ll ramp up spending and expectations accordingly.

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But this? At the end of a season in which the success came unexpectedly yet fluidly? This was all a bonus, and it continued with a 5-4 win against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader before a 5-1 loss in the season finale.

With how Baltimore has played all season, one more comeback — its 36th — was only fitting.

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“We like to make it tough, pitch out of jams and then pop one late to get the win,” manager Brandon Hyde jokingly said between games. “We game planned it before the game just like that.”

Orioles rookie Terrin Vavra, center, celebrates with teammates after hitting a go-ahead three-run home run, the first of his career, in the eighth inning of a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of a doubleheader at Camden Yards on Wednesday. Baltimore dropped the second game, 5-1, to finish 83-79, their first winning season since 2016.

Even without that second victory, the Orioles (83-79) had clinched their first winning season since 2016. And the split only brought more positive vibes heading into this offseason. On the field Wednesday were two top prospects, a hitter with 33 homers and the knowledge that this is just the start.

And to add to it, rookie Terrin Vavra lashed a high fastball off right-hander Mitch White onto the flag court beyond the right field fence for his first major league home run in the first game. The go-ahead three-run blast set the stage for the 2022 Orioles to become the second-most improved team in franchise history, behind only the 1989 “Why Not?” club.

Wednesday morning, in anticipation for the last games of the season, Hyde thought back on the 99-day lockout, not knowing when the season would start or how his team would look. Once it ended, he saw all the predictions that the Orioles would once again be a bottom-feeder.

“Just seems like so long ago, now,” Hyde said. “But really enjoyed this team, enjoyed this summer, and unfortunately it comes to an end. But we’re looking forward to next year, as well.”

In the second game, the Orioles tied the score at 1 in the sixth with consecutive doubles from Jesús Aguilar and Kyle Stowers. A final comeback looked possible there, too, before the bullpen faltered in the seventh and eighth, allowing four runs.

Vavra’s homer in the first game not only broke a stretch in which Baltimore was 1 for its last 19 with runners in scoring position, but also sent him into the offseason on a high note. In a rookie class with stars such as catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson, Vavra occasionally gets overlooked. But he hit .258 and has put himself in position to be a cog in Baltimore’s infield next year, too.

In the middle of Vavra’s postgame press conference in the clubhouse, Stowers poked his head into the scrum and yelled, “T-Man, homer over the fence!”

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“Over the real fence!” Vavra responded.

It’s part of the fun that ensues in a young clubhouse. And it’s part of the reason those in that clubhouse feel this season is just the start.

“That’s the best part about this group — we’re in it together,” Vavra said. “We want the best for each other, and that’s pretty special. Especially in this sport, this industry, there’s a lot of selfishness that goes on, and I think this clubhouse keeps clear of that, and I think that’s ultimately what let us have success this season.”

Vavra’s homer made up for a three-run homer from the Blue Jays’ Gabriel Moreno two innings earlier. That long ball, also Moreno’s first of his career, came off right-hander Mike Baumann’s 84th and final pitch — a slider that hung over the heart of the strike zone. Before that, the outing from the Orioles right-hander in the penultimate game of the season was encouraging. In a way, Baltimore’s 22nd-ranked prospect was playing more for next season than this one, showcasing his ability to be a starter rather than a reliever.

The first five innings showed why Baumann might find his way back here next year. Baumann ranked as the Orioles’ third-best pitching prospect to open the 2021 season, according to Baseball America. He has fallen some since then, but his fastball-slider combination has potential. He induced three whiffs on each Wednesday.

“I think I turned my season around if you look at the first month,” Baumann said. “There’s still a lot of room to grow. I felt like I ended stronger than I started, and that’s something I’m proud of.”

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The first breakthrough off Baumann came in the second, when three softly hit balls found holes. Moreno’s homer gave Toronto a 4-0 lead, but Austin Hays’ two-run double in the sixth cut that in half.

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The Orioles bullpen held it there, with right-hander Bryan Baker recording his first career save while left-hander DL Hall, another top prospect, earned his first major league win. In Hall’s last eight major league outings, the southpaw has allowed one run with 11 strikeouts and two walks in 8 2/3 innings.

“It’s going to be fun watching him going forward, whatever role he’s in, because I like the energy he pitches with,” Hyde said. “I really like the makeup of this guy.”

Rather than pitching right-hander Jordan Lyles one more time this season, Hyde turned to right-hander Spenser Watkins to start the final game. Watkins allowed one run on two hits in 3 1/3 innings before handing the game over to the bullpen. And while Stowers drove home Aguilar in the sixth, Yennier Cano and Cionel Pérez combined to allow two runs in the seventh. Then right-handers Dillon Tate and Beau Sulser combined to concede two more runs in the eighth.

This time, Baltimore couldn’t recover.

But for those fans who were there for the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the flash of power from Vavra at an opportune time gave them another reason to cheer at the end of a season that deserves a standing ovation — and got one.

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After 162 games, the Orioles left the dugout to wave to their fans. The fans stood and cheered. It was the end of this season, but it felt like the start of something.

“The sky truly is the limit for this group,” Watkins said.

Orioles third baseman Gunnar Henderson (2) shakes hands with left fielder Ryan McKenna during the Wednesday's doubleheader at Camden Yards.

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