BOSTON - A season that again proved to be unforgiving for the Orioles, highlighting every deficiency while also sprinkling in the occasional reward in an ill-fated attempt to provide some balance, finally and mercifully has reached its 162nd game.
The chance to make an impression, to perhaps have it carry through the cold winter months and into sunny Sarasota, Fla., is down to a nub.
DJ Stewart, twice forced onto the injured list and engaged in a heated outfield competition that’s expanding, issued his statement today with a two-run homer in the top of the first. Richie Martin and Renato Núñez homered over the next two innings in maneuvers designed to garner a win and attention.
The polls remain open, but only for a short time.
Left-hander John Means already cemented his impression with an outstanding rookie campaign and nothing that happened this afternoon could crack the foundation. Including the three runs he handed back to the Red Sox in the bottom of the first.
Means gutted out five innings without a feel for all of his pitches and the Orioles pounced on former teammate Andrew Cashner in the sixth to defeat the Red Sox 9-4 at Fenway Park and claim their second series in the last three.
“Just happy to get a win,” Means said. “It was awesome for us. Offense was great, defense was great. I didn’t have my best stuff obviously today. You get a win to finish off the season is always nice.”
Chris Davis led off the sixth with a double and scored on Austin Wynns’ single for a 5-3 lead. Wynns scored on Martin’s double. Martin raced home on Jonathan Villar’s single. Villar stole his 40th base and scored on Trey Mancini’s two-out single, which signaled the end for Cashner.
The bullpen escaped a couple late jams, Mancini hit his 35th home run in the ninth to go with a .291 average, .901 OPS and 96 RBIs, and the Orioles improved their record to 54-107.
One of the outs registered by Cashner came on Stevie Wilkerson’s sacrifice bunt that preceded Wynns’ single. He needed the assistance.
The Orioles have won three of the last four games that found Wynns in the lineup. The loss, in Toronto, came by a 3-2 score.
Villar is the first Orioles player with 40 steals since Brian Roberts in 2008. He’s expected in the lineup on Sunday, making him the first Orioles player to appear in every game since Jonathan Schoop in 2016.
Means allowed three runs and five hits, getting a fly ball on his 96th pitch to strand two runners in the fifth and leave his record at 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings. He’s going to collect votes for American League Rookie of the Year, with a shot at finishing second or third.
“I don’t think about it,” Means said. “Obviously, I see some stuff. I try to just go out there and pitch. My goal at the beginning of the year was to stay here the whole year, and Rookie of the Year talk, I don’t know anything about it.”
“I just thought he really gutted it out,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “That’s a really tough lineup to face with all those really good right-handed hitters. They put three on him early and settled in nicely and it was just a really gutsy performance and gave us five innings and left with a lead. So did a great job.
“It’s an over-.500 pitcher on a team that’s not over. 500. Well below. Just means that he won a lot of games for us and did what he did today. Keeps us in the game. Love to see him start to go deeper. I thought his slider actually was ... he threw some good sliders today, which was good to see going into next year. He’s done a great job all year and to finish above .500 on a team that’s where we are is really impressive.”
Getting the 12th win put Means over the .500 hump. A devalued stat was important to him.
“That’s what I was trying to get and it was this last game, I was trying to get a winning record,” he said. “That’s something that I want to pride myself on, winning ballgames with this team. Like I said, that’s something I’m happy with today. I didn’t have my best stuff out there, but getting a win is awesome.
“I thought I might end the season like I did last season with a little rough start at Fenway and I’m like, ‘OK, this could be good going into next year.’ But no. ... It’s still probably one of my favorite parks to pitch in because of the environment. You can’t really beat it.”
Shawn Armstrong replaced Means and allowed a run in the sixth on Sandy León’s two-out bloop single that scored Sam Travis.
Stewart’s fourth home run of the season came after Villar doubled on the first pitch thrown by Jhoulys Chacín, the ball traveling 408 feet to right field. Martin moved ahead in the Orioles’ longest drive competition with a 410-foot shot to left field in the second inning that tied the game 3-3, but Núñez grabbed the trophy with a 433-footer that returned the lead to the visiting side.
“I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot, especially from playing up here and being around guys like Trey and Mark (Trumbo),” Martin said. “I really wish Mark was here from Day One because he’s unbelievable. He’s one of those guys, when he talks you just kind of sit back and listen. He’s really smart and he knows a lot about the game. He’s one of those guys who you learn from. But in general I’ve learned a lot this year.”
The bottom of the first included 23 pitches from Means, a two-run homer for Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez’s solo shot that followed. Means was burned by a changeup and curveball.
Stewart has no idea whether he’s breaking camp with the team next year. Martin knows he won’t retain Rule 5 status, but otherwise is equally in the dark. Núñez must have a pretty good feel after hitting his 30th and 31st home runs in less than 24 hours, but he hasn’t been told anything official.
Prior to his arrival in Boston, Núñez hadn’t hit a home run since Sept. 8 and collected only one since Aug. 21. They tend to come in bunches, the streakiness part of his hitting resume, and today’s ball cleared the Green Monster and knocked Chacín out of the game after only 2 2/3 innings.
Tanner Scott retired both left-handed hitters he faced and came out of the game. He, too, is trying to leave behind a positive impression in a season that’s challenged him to do it.
Branden Kline loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and wiggled out of the jam when the Orioles turned a 4-6-3 double play on Brock Holt’s grounder. Kline compounded the mess earlier by fielding Travis’ bouncer and firing to second base with no one covering. Martin played the ball on one hop.
Kline had gestured before the at-bat to find out which infielder would be covering. One mistake was leaving the bag unattended. The other was failing to take the easy out at first with a four-run lead.
“It was messed-up communication and the ball was chopped, and I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but I think that we thought he was going to go to first,” Martin said. “But that’s on us, the middle infield. We’ve got to do a better job.”
The Red Sox put the first two runners on base in the eighth and Jackie Bradley Jr. ended the inning against Richard Bleier by grounding into a double play.
The margin grew in the ninth. The positive impressions outweighed the negative.
“We’re playing hard and Game 161 and 50 games out or whatever we are, just continue to compete,” Hyde said. “I’m really excited with how we played today. I thought we played with a ton of energy. I thought we played to win. Everybody’s at-bats were important. Nice to see some of the young bullpen guys come in and have some success.
“I think we’ve taken really good at-bats, I thought we ran the bases well today, also. We just had that one defensive miscue that could have been big, but rebounded and got a double play ball after that. And congratulations to Johnny V. for 40 bags. That’s a great accomplishment.”
Said Martin: “I’ve always said we have a really good team, no matter all the close games that we’ve come up on the short end of. You put those in our favor and we’re a winning team. I’ll always believe that, and we need to keep the momentum going into next year and trust what’s going on here and I think everything will work out fine.
Chandler Shepherd will start Sunday’s season finale.