Jorge Mateo slapped a ground ball to the right side of the infield in the ninth inning, from mitt to first base to the final out of the 2022 season.
Fans stood and cheered the Orioles after a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays in Game 2 of the doubleheader. The team came back out of the dugout with caps held high in the air. Some players waved and others returned the applause.
Manager Brandon Hyde intended to play everyone today. No one would be left on the bench on the last day, with a makeup doubleheader carrying them to their 162nd game.
A winning record was intact. Stats could be padded before players scattered for the winter. Go home, rest, and get ready to make a stronger run within the division in 2023.
But first, an emotional send-off.
"I thought it was a classy move on their part and shows the appreciation for the effort our guys put in this year," Hyde said. "Nice to see our guys acknowledge that, as well. I thought it was an extremely cool moment.
"Thank you to all the fans for their support this year, and unfortunately we couldn't end it with a win in the last game of the year, but we really appreciate everybody, how they came out this year, and we know there's excitement about this team going forward and we felt that."
"They've been through thick and thin obviously the last few years," said rookie Kyle Stowers, "and it's exciting, the brand of baseball we've been playing. I think we take a mutual respect and excitement moving forward."
"The fans are everything," said rookie Terrin Vavra, who hit his first major league home run to win Game 1. "They're what drives us, and hopefully next year when we're in a playoff race, we're going to need them at this time of the year when it gets tough. Being able to feel their presence even until the last out was pretty cool."
Jesús Aguilar got the start at first base, unsure whether he’s coming back next year, and he scored the tying run in the sixth inning on a double by Stowers, who has no worries about his future with the club.
A familiar burst from the Orioles, but they ran out of comebacks in a year filled with them.
"I would have liked it a lot more if we were able to come up with a win at the end," Stowers said.
Otto López lined a two-run single into center field off Cionel Pérez in the seventh inning and the Blue Jays gained a split before an announced crowd of 17,248 at Camden Yards that bumped the final attendance to 1,365,900.
A slight increase from the 1,307,807 in 2019, the last season untouched by COVID-19.
The bigger jump was seen with the record. The Orioles improved from 52-110 last year to 83-79, the first time finishing over .500 since 2016. The nine wins against the Blue Jays are the most since 2017.
The Orioles are the third team in major league history and first since 1899 to win at least 83 games following a 110-loss season.
"It's been a lot of fun," Hyde said. "I was just thinking this morning about, lockout and not even knowing when the season was going to start and not even knowing what our team was going to look like, and who was going to be pitching and rotation and bullpen, etc. Just seems like so long ago now, but really enjoyed this team, really enjoyed the summer, and unfortunately it comes to an end. But we're looking forward to next year as well."
"I think the best part about this group is we're in it together," Vavra said. "We all want the best for each other and I think that's pretty special, especially in this sport and this industry. There's a lot of selfishness that goes on, and this clubhouse keeps clear of that, and I think that's ultimately what let us have a successful season."
Pérez inherited a runner from Yennier Canó in the seventh, fielded Bradley Zimmer’s bouncer with one out and threw the ball into center field. Zimmer stole second base and both runners scored on López’s single.
Dillon Tate retired the first two batters in the eighth and walked the next three. Beau Sulser replaced Tate, and Zimmer’s bloop single into shallow left field scored two runs.
Spenser Watkins made the start and worked 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run and two hits and throwing 55 pitches before Hyde dug into his bullpen.
Toronto loaded the bases with one out in the first and Bo Bichette scored on Danny Jansen’s fielder’s choice grounder. Watkins retired nine of the last 10 batters and left to a nice ovation.
"It was an honor for them to think of me for that last start and I'll take the ball any chance I can get to throw the ball," Watkins said. "It was a great feeling that they gave me an opportunity."
Nick Vespi, owner of a 0.00 ERA with Triple-A Norfolk, allowed back-to-back singles after replacing Watkins and escaped the jam. Canó had surrendered eight runs in his first two appearances with the Orioles in just 2 1/3 innings, but he retired the first six batters today before Gabriel Moreno’s leadoff single in the seventh.
Canó was stuck with the loss and finishes with a 16.62 ERA with the Orioles.
Aguilar singled in the first inning after Anthony Santander was hit by a pitch, and he doubled to right-center field off Casey Lawrence with one out in the sixth. Stowers followed with his double and pinch-hitter Gunnar Henderson walked.
Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider called on left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who made five previous appearances against the Orioles this season and allowed 15 earned runs and 18 total with 19 hits, 10 walks and seven homers in 15 innings. He struck out Rougned Odor and retired Tyler Nevin on a fly ball.
Kikuchi returned for the seventh and retired the side in order.
Rougned Odor was stranded in the ninth after walking, and the Orioles had reached the end. Hyde went around the clubhouse hugging each player. Teammates embraced and posed for group photos. The closeness never more evident before the inevitable separation.
"I thanked them for just how enjoyable this season was and their effort and how far we've come," Hyde said. "Just wanted to make sure they recognized what the expectations were going into the year and what they accomplished. It's hard to explain, honestly, when you're picked last and you're expected to be last and you're ... It's been a tough few years, and for them to overcome that this year, and then some, they should be congratulated."
The Orioles finished 34-42 in the division, their most wins since 2017.
"I think we took huge steps this year and we've just got to continue to get better," Hyde said. "I thought we played our division tough this year. Our games were more competitive against our division and they're going to continue to be going forward. We had a young club, we got a lot better, and we've just got to continue to improve."
Note: Mateo and Cedric Mullins are the first pair of teammates to finish first and second in their league in stolen bases since 1992 and the first in the American League since 1971. It's never happened in franchise history.