Big innings have eluded the Orioles offense for weeks, but they managed to string a pair together in Sunday’s season finale against the Toronto Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, to finish the year with a 7-5 victory.
“For us, it did mean a lot, to be able to end the season strong and season with a win, we felt like that was important,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
“I thought we did a lot of good things today — some young players doing some really, really good things on the baseball field. It was definitely nice to end the season with a win after a tough few weeks.”
Trailing 4-1 in the fourth inning after a pair of home runs chased rookie starter Keegan Akin, the Orioles tied the game when Cedric Mullins drove in two runs with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin Hays.
They pulled ahead in a three-run fifth inning in which Rio Ruiz had a run-scoring double, Hanser Alberto grounded out to push across a second and Pat Valaika had a single to drive in a third.
Sunday’s victory meant the Orioles finish at 25-35, which would have been a 68-94 pace in a 162-game season, and finished ahead of the last-place Boston Red Sox.
It was a far fall from the 40-game mark of the season, when the Orioles went to New York with the playoffs within reach.
Still, Hyde felt like the season was a positive one for the Orioles. Considering the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, completing the year seems like an achievement in its own.
But for an Orioles team that had to deal with star player Trey Mancini’s spring training cancer diagnosis, plus the three-month coronavirus shutdown and a stringent set of protocols during the season to keep them on the field, it was even more challenging to get to this point.
“We’ve all gone through a lot this year. It’s been a grind in a lot of ways, and I really like our club," Hyde said. "I thought we did a lot of really good things, and we were thinking about it today — how summer camp feels so long ago, and spring training 1.0 felt so long ago, just because of everything that we have gone through. So, yeah, there’s just been a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of things come our way this year that none of us have ever dealt with before. It’s over. That’s always a strange feeling.”
A little from Akin ...
If Tuesday’s start in Boston wasn’t the way Akin wanted to end his season, this might not have been, either.
As is the case with the Orioles' young left-hander, the strikeouts were there early. He had three strikeouts through two and allowed a second-inning sacrifice fly, but things fell apart in a long third inning.
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With two outs, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homered around a single by Randal Grichuk to leave Akin with four runs allowed on five hits in three innings, bringing his ERA at 4.56 for the year.
Hyde said Akin was pulled because of arm fatigue.
“Just felt like he wasn’t finishing his pitches there the last inning,” Hyde said. “I thought he threw some really good fastballs again, threw some good changeups. But I could tell that he just wasn’t quite right and that’s pretty normal in this kind of a setting. ... He had a long inning in Boston last start, and I thought there was some arm fatigue in there so we went to the bullpen, but really excited about Keegan’s progress.”
... and a lot from the bullpen
Travis Lakins Sr. took over with two hitless innings of relief after Akin left, then Paul Fry and Hunter Harvey combined for two scoreless innings, and Shawn Armstrong allowed an unearned run in the eighth.
Cesar Valdez, the Orioles' 35-year old minor league free agent, recorded his third save opportunity in as many chances with a scoreless ninth.
Mullins ended up with two triples to give him three this season, but it could have been an even bigger day. When he came up with two outs in the second inning, his rope down the right-field line looked like it would sneak over the wall, but J.D. Davis leapt to catch it and keep it in the ballpark.
Mullins, Mountcastle and Núñez had two hits apiece to pace the Orioles.