BOSTON - The final series of the 2019 season came upon manager Brandon Hyde in quick fashion, the months since spring training gaining speed and distorting as if painted by Picasso.
The only similarity to a work of art, though tonight’s game had shades of a masterpiece.
“It does seem like spring training was years (ago). I feel like the season did kind of fly by,” Hyde said before tonight’s 4-1 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“I remember being here early in the year, a little bit chilly, and now we’re here in the fall and excited to wrap up our last series.”
Renato Núñez is grateful that the season still has some life to it, his 30th home run breaking a scoreless tie in the third inning. Asher Wojciechowski blanked the Red Sox through the sixth and the Orioles improved to 53-107.
Núñez pounced on a two-strike curveball from Nathan Eovaldi and hit it 414 feet off a light tower above the Green Monster for his first homer since Sept. 8 and second since Aug. 21. Statcast had the exit velocity at 110.6 mph.
Unwilling to share RBI responsibilities tonight, Núñez lined a two-out single into right field in the ninth that scored Austin Hays.
Relievers Tanner Scott and Mychal Givens each tossed a scoreless inning and the Orioles were headed toward their sixth shutout until Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the ninth with a double against Richard Bleier and scored on Xander Bogaerts’ single. Bleier picked off Bogaerts.
Scott struck out two in the seventh while retiring the side in order and Givens struck out the side in the eighth.
The time for reflection usually comes after the final out, but Hyde has been pressed to do it sooner because he’s a first-time manager at the major league level.
He’s got two more games before shedding his rookie status.
“I think you learn from experiences and learn from my first year. Some things I’d do differently, some things I’d like to keep the same,” he said.
“I thought we had a really good spring training this past year. I think we gave the guys a lot of opportunities to win major league jobs. I thought our energy in spring training was fantastic. I thought our work was efficient and really well done, so those type of things I’m definitely going to keep the same. I know the routine a little bit better and I’m looking forward to next spring.”
The Orioles are going to continue selling the opportunity angle to players and cite the various successes.
“I think so,” Hyde said. “We’ll see what offseason moves we make and we’ll see what the spring training roster looks like. I still think we’re a developing a major league club that has two years in, now in our second year of the place where we are, and it’s going to be a lot easier knowing the majority of the players who are in camp now.
“That’s going to be a huge difference is now I know everybody and know the staff and everybody that works in Sarasota. The adjustment there is going to be a lot less. But I think there’s still a lot of room for us to grow, obviously, and we have to get a lot better and I look forward to our players improving this winter and getting ready to go for spring training.”
Two games remaining on the schedule and Hyde’s already fielding questions about spring training. The rebuild tends to divert the focus from what’s right in front of us.
Tonight’s game offered Wojciechowski one final chance to impress Hyde and pitching coach Doug Brocail. He retired the last six batters faced and held the Red Sox to four hits with one walk and six strikeouts.
Wojciechowski gave the Orioles an eight-pitch shutdown inning in the third, with Mookie Betts’ leadoff single followed by Devers’ scorching liner that turned into a 4-3 double play. His second inning lasted 22 pitches and went as follows: single, strikeout, strikeout, walk, strikeout.
Sam Travis was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fourth and ran through third base coach Carlos Febles’ late stop sign after Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled off the right field fence. Travis was out at the plate on a nice relay from DJ Stewart to Trey Mancini to Chance Sisco.
They haven’t all been done with this level of precision.
Wojciechowski finishes the season with a 4.92 ERA. He blanked the Red Sox in two of his starts over a combined 13 1/3 innings.
Hays collected the Orioles’ first hit with a one-out double in the third inning. Mancini walked and the runners advanced on a passed ball, Dwight Smith Jr. struck out and Núñez ended his power outage.
The Orioles left the bases loaded in the sixth after Hays’ two-out single off reliever Hector Velázquez, Stewart’s double and Sisco’s walk.
It didn’t matter. The Orioles retired 14 straight batters before Devers doubled and held on for the win.
They weren’t done with the season.
Update: For the ninth time in club history, two Orioles have registered 30-plus home runs and 85-plus RBIs in the same season with Mancini and Núñez. It happened most recently in 2017 with Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop.
Mancini and Stewart each drew three walks, the first time that the Orioles had multiple players with three or more in the same game since Nick Markakis and Mark Reynolds on May 6, 2012.
Hyde on Wojciechowski pushing through fatigue: “That’s what I felt like. About the fourth or the fifth, I felt like he was missing a lot but getting results, and I felt like that was just guts out there the last two or three innings. Great way to end the year for him. He’s thrown more innings than he has in years and really showed his competitive tonight by going six scoreless.”
Hyde on Scott and Givens: “Dominating two innings. You see such great flashes of Tanner and his stuff is elite backend stuff and now it’s just about harnessing and being able to throw strikes and get early swings. He did that tonight. Just a great job. And then Mike Givens tonight, too, with the great eighth inning. So I thought we did a lot of really good things on the mound tonight, and Noonie with supplying the offense.”
Hyde on reminder that games can be won like this: “We’ve been kind of waiting for this type of game. They don’t happen very often, where it’s smooth. Our guys, you can forecast what’s going to happen next. Mike had two right-handers in his inning, Tanner had two left-handers in his inning. Richard was going to have three out of four left-handers in his inning. So it’s a lot easier to navigate when guys are getting it done and getting guys out when they’re supposed to. And it’s not going to be perfect every night. We’ve just had a tough time this year and tonight we just did a great job out of the bullpen.”
Hyde on whether Núñez was pressing and if 30 meant more than 29: “Yes. I think for the player it means a lot. I think Noonie’s really been pressing trying to get that 30th and I told him he’s going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing he’s got 30 homers. It’s a great accomplishment in his first really full year in the majors. Twenty-five years old and hitting 30 is impressive and he hit a big one for us tonight.”
Hyde on big run in ninth: “Huge, huge tack-on run there in the ninth from Noonie, also. That’s one thing I’ve talked about a lot this year is we make it tough on our bullpen. We haven’t had done a great job out of the ‘pen this year, but we’ve also made it tough on them by leaving a lot of runners on base with a lead and not being able to get deeper into their ‘pen or extend the lead to just make it easier on ourselves. It seems like we have a tough time getting that big hit to put the game out of reach or to really extend the lead. So for Noonie to get that hit in the ninth to make it a four-run game was huge.”
Hyde on pickoff: “That was Richard on his own, that was Richard completely on his own. I almost, the pitch before, moved Trey off the base a little bit. I don’t want the runner on second base there, especially Bogaerts, but Mitch (Moreland) is a ground ball guy. Wanted to keep the double play in order there. But with the left-hander up it was kind of going through my mind to get him off the base. But that pickoff was completely on his own and it turned out to be huge.”
Wojciechowski on importance of finishing strong: “I mean, it was definitely a goal I had all week, of just going out there and performing and competing and trying to get us a good chance to win. Definitely something I thought about all week and I really just wanted to end on a good note. Played some good defense. Had a couple lineouts. The ball kind of fell my way today. But I was happy, executed pitches well. I was happy with my performance today.”
Wojciechowski on whether he felt stronger as game progressed: “I was just more so really just trying to execute pitches. I knew kind of where my pitch count was in the season, too. I really just tried to focus on just executing a pitch, not overthrowing, getting good bite on my slider, on my cutter. Really just was happy with the way things ended.”
Núñez on 30th home run: “What can I say? It was always in the back of my mind. Like I always say, I’m just trying to help my win. I did that today and that’s all I want.”
Núñez on whether it’s a relief: “It feels amazing. Yeah, of course. I got my 30. I’m really happy.”
Núñez on whether he’ll sleep better tonight: “Probably I will. It was a great win all around. Wojo threw an amazing game today. Everybody did their work. It was great.”
Núñez on going opposite field for single: “When I’ve got men on second and third, what I want is to bring that guy in. I feel like that’s my job. I was just battling in that at-bat. I react well, and I hit that ball to right field. It was amazing. I felt great.”