What's proved to be a year of seismic changes for the Orioles on and off the field still packed in plenty of actual baseball over the required 162 games, even if it might have been nice for them to mercifully end by about halfway through.
If 2018 is remembered for anything going forward with the Orioles, it will be the series of trades in July that upgraded the farm system some, and the changing of the guard from the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era to the Mike Elias-Brandon Hyde leadership tandem, and all the changes that came from it.
Most of the actual baseball was forgettable. But buried in all that were moments that, both now and in the future, will be defining features of the worst season in Orioles baseball history. Here they are:
Adam Jones' Opening Day walk-off
How much hope did the extra-inning swing that gave the Orioles a 1-0 record — the only winning record they'd have all year — bring to this doomed ballclub? My now-fiancee and I were driving up to New Jersey two days later for her father's surprise birthday party, and on the way I told her that despite my low expectations for this team, the Orioles had brought in a lot of veteran pieces and could surprise people. And if it came to it, I'd do whatever I could to make it to one of her best friend’s weddings Oct. 6, which was during the playoffs.
Of course, they didn't win again for a week, and before I even went on the road for the first time, she asked me how that wedding weekend looked. At 1-5, they'd never be closer than within two games of .500 the rest of the year. The wedding was safe.
But Jones' home run capped a day that also included Dylan Bundy's long-awaited first Opening Day start, a two-run triple for Caleb Joseph and a win for Richard Bleier. The cracks were evident, but it wasn't time to look at them. It was just a winning baseball team, for the only time this year.
That Yankees series
The Orioles' four-game series April 5-8 in New York represented their longest sustained stretch of quality play, with their biggest offensive inning of the season helping them to a 5-2 win in the first game, a wild 14-inning game in the second of four giving them two wins in a row, followed by an understandable letdown Saturday and another slog of a 12-inning win Sunday that came after Mike Wright Jr. didn't get out of the first inning.
It was full of smart and memorable baseball moments — from the 1-2-5 double play that Brad Brach and Joseph started in a jam Sunday to some hometown heroics for Pedro Álvarez and the first of several stops on the Manny Machado free agency tour where he sent a message. The Orioles felt like themselves for a weekend, and even though it wouldn't last, it happened.
Those games in which they scored a lot
Starting with the 17-1 win over Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and the Tampa Bay Rays on Mother's Day, the Orioles certainly had some opportunities to let out their frustrations on some visitors to Camden Yards. Four of their seven highest run totals (17, 15, 11, and 11) came against the Rays at home, and their top seven offensive outputs came at Camden Yards. All were wins except the time an 8-3 lead over the Boston Red Sox turned into a 19-12 loss, but the rest of the times were plenty cathartic to a team and fan base that needed it.
Chris Davis' returning home run
There was nothing really positive about Chris Davis' season with the Orioles, which by many measures was one of the worst in major league history. But when he took 10 days off to work with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson and returned to work a walk in his first at-bat, then hit a home run on the first actual swing he took, there were at least some tangible results to what he was working on.
Davis actually improved a bit after that time off, before the approach and swing built there reverted and he fell deeper into a hole. But that moment, in what was another of the Orioles' long extra-inning wins on the road this year (15 innings at the Atlanta Braves on June 22), was a nice one that I'm sure meant a lot to him.
Adam Jones' final game
Just as the first day of the season was probably the best, the last was up there as Showalter gave Jones one last start in center field at Camden Yards, then pulled him in the ninth inning for one last ovation.
Saying goodbye to Jones was one of the major steps of separating whatever the Orioles will become from what they were, and that so many took the time to recognize him reflected well on all involved. That it also turned out to be Showalter's last game added to that some, but whenever the Orioles have Sundays like that, it reminds everyone of just how nice baseball at Camden Yards can be.
All those road sweeps
Without breaking my philosophy that people don't care much what it's like to cover baseball, the thing that made this year distinct was how nothing was distinct. What made a road sweep to the Detroit Tigers in April different from a road sweep to the Oakland Athletics in May or the Philadelphia Phillies in July or the Kansas City Royals approaching Labor Day? It was all the same, really.
The Orioles had three two-city, six-game road trips in which they didn't win a game, to say nothing of a nine-game road trip late in the year through Kansas City, Seattle and Tampa Bay during which they won once. It was a lot of losing, and it mostly just blended together.
Kevin Gausman's nine-inning, no-run loss
Mixed into one of those winless road trips was Kevin Gausman's nine innings of scoreless, two-hit ball May 5 in Oakland, a game the Orioles lost in 12 innings because they had seven hits and didn't score.
When this team talked about not being able to get in sync and do things well all at the same time, this is what was meant. Gausman was in the middle of one of those good stretches of his, and achieved the ideal for a modern starting pitcher but didn't get rewarded for it. This one stung in a particular way, I'm sure.
The All-Star Game
The idea was that Manny Machado represent the Orioles down the road at the All-Star Game in Washington before he was traded away, just so the Orioles could have a worthy participant, but it seemed to have all backfired. The team pulling him from its last game before the break because of a wet field was a dead giveaway to such intentions, and the media frenzy around the All-Star Game meant it was treated as a fait accompli that Machado would be a Los Angeles Dodger the next time he played a game.
All it did was give another occasion for those talking about the game to point out the season they were having.
The trade deadline
Once Machado was gone, Zach Britton and Brad Brach followed and Jones said he'd rather stay than accept a trade to Philadelphia. That created the expectation that the actual deadline would be quiet. Then the Orioles sent Gausman and Darren O'Day to the Braves and Jonathan Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers in a flurry at the 4 p.m. deadline July 31.
Given that Gausman, O’Day and Schoop were under club control beyond 2018, those deals stung most inside the clubhouse, given what it said about the organization's priorities going forward. It also stripped away a few more recognizable faces who the fans watched grow into big leaguers in Baltimore. It made this offseason quieter, even if it ended up being busy for other reasons. But the overall tenor of that day was one no one will soon forget.
Adam Jones' final game
As nice as Jones' final day was, it was kind of depressing, too. The Orioles have gone in a direction that everyone kind of nods and acknowledges is probably the right one. That's probably a good thing for the future of the organization.
That doesn't mean entering a day like that — with open acknowledgement that the face of the Orioles’ best baseball in two decades won't have a place in trying to return the club to success — isn't sad. Jones became the avatar of sorts for the end of something that finished badly, but he was incredibly special to this city and franchise. That he was honored for that was great, but that it was required certainly wasn't.