Shortstop J.J. Hardy embraced teammates Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop in right field while warming up before today’s final home game of the 2017 season. Likely the last for Hardy in an Orioles uniform as free agency approaches.
It’s an emotional day for Hardy and his teammates, and not only because the club has been eliminated from the wild card chase and can’t finish .500.
It’s gotten off to a bad start. Kevin Kiermaier homered on the first pitch from Chris Tillman, an 89 mph fastball.
Tillman threw 17 pitches in the inning, the last creating a 4-6-3 double play. Hardy also fielded Lucas Duda’s grounder in the shift and recorded the out. He’s been busy.
First baseman Chris Davis said he saw signs “as early as May” that the Orioles were going to scuffle through the summer. They won 22 of their first 32 games. They’ll close the season below .500 and out of the playoffs.
“We had such a strong first month and then we really struggled to put everything together,” he said. “If we pitched well one night, we didn’t score enough runs. Even defensively this year, I thought at times we didn’t look like ourselves.
“It’s definitely frustrating. I know a lot of guys are disappointed and I know it’s really taken a toll on every player in here. And it should. It should be important to you. So we definitely have some stuff we need to work on.”
Davis accepts the heat that comes from his disappointing season. He’s batting .218/.310/.426 in 123 games, with 15 doubles, 25 home runs, 58 RBIs and 186 strikeouts in 441 at-bats. He’s 4-for-11 with a home run in the last three games.
“I’ve already started entertaining that, what is it going to take to really make some key adjustments to where I can be a more productive, more consistent player?” he said. “The game is changing. Everybody knows that. There’s no way to run and hide from that. But as a player, you have to continue to make adjustments.
“I had several conversations earlier this year with Scott Coolbaugh and Howie (Clark), guys who are around the game every day, about what it’s really going to take for me to be productive day in and day out. There are things I need to work on, obviously, but right now my goal basically is to finish up as strong as I can. Any big adjustments, I’m not going to start revamping my swing with a week left in the season.”
Davis was asked about a sense of urgency for next season with so many key members of the organization entering the final year of their contracts. He doesn’t stamp a date on it.
“I think the sense of urgency is there every year,” he said. “You realize guys aren’t getting any younger, guys are getting closer to free agency or the end of their contracts. We’ve had such a big group of guys stay here and consistently be in there day in and day out and have success, but time catches up with everybody. Eventually, that’s going to run out, so the sense of urgency, it’s always there.”
Davis and closer Zach Britton expressed their confidence this morning that the Orioles will make another run at the playoffs in 2018 rather than slip into rebuild mode. They didn’t sell at the non-waiver deadline and haven’t given any indication that they’re going to sell off their best players over the winter.
“It would have been nice to be able to deliver on some of their aggressiveness with a postseason berth, but it’s just kind of the way the chips fell,” Davis said. “But I think everybody’s on the same page here. Nobody’s in rebuild mode. We want to win and we want to win now.”
Manager Buck Showalter didn’t want to give a eulogy on the 2017 season with six games to play. He noted how painful it is to talk about the club’s failure to finish with a winning record and make the playoffs, and he still appreciates the importance of running the table in the final week.
“Two areas I think, obviously we’ve got to improve in the starting pitching. That falls underneath Captain Obvious,” Showalter said. “And I think we’ve taken a step back defensively. Really, the last year or two, and I think we need to get that back in order, especially with a pitching staff that doesn’t strike out that many people. And that’s not going to change overnight.
“That’s something we were really good at. I thought it kept us from playing a home game in the playoffs last year, stuff like that. I think, very quietly, we dropped our guard a little bit defensively. It’s something we try to make a point of emphasis and I think we kind of lowered our standards in a couple of areas.”
Showalter declined to say much publicly about Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell last night becoming the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem. Showalter wanted to “take it all in.”
“I mean, it doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier. If someone feels that way ... We all have our own personal thoughts on it and it’s usually by the way we were brought up and the exposure we’ve had to different things. Let’s face it, all of our thoughts are kind of shaped by the way we were brought up and the environment we were brought up in and what our fathers and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles (believed).
“We’re in this country and people express things in different venues. I’m trying to see if (Chance) Sisco can catch (Dylan) Bundy today.”
Sisco didn’t get the chance, so to speak. Bundy was scratched with a strained left hamstring.
Update: The Orioles scored four runs in the bottom of the first to take a 4-1 lead. Adam Jones had a two-run double and he came home on Chris Davis’ single. Davis stole second base and scored on Pedro Álvarez’s single.
Hardy received a standing ovation before grounding out. Rays pitcher Chris Archer moved behind the mound, and the Orioles and Rays lined up and applauded in their respective dugouts.
Tillman gave up the lead in the top of the second on Brad Miller’s RBI single and Jesús Sucre’s two-run homer. We’re tied 4-4.
Update II: Hardy hit a two-run homer off Archer in the fourth to give the Orioles a 6-4 lead and earn a curtain call.
Update III: Chance Sisco hit his second major league home run, a two-run shot ni the sixth that extended the lead to 8-4.