J.J. Hardy is the last person who wants to draw attention to himself.
And he’s not 100 percent sure that he’s played his last game in an Orioles’ uniform at Camden Yards.
It’s likely, of course, that the 35-year-old shortstop, who has been a mainstay of the franchise since the 2011 season, is done in Baltimore. His contract expires at the end of the season and the club has no intention of picking up his $14 million option, instead exercising the $2 million buyout.
So, give the fans at Camden Yards plenty of credit in the first inning when Hardy came to the plate, his Orioles’ teammates stepped out of the dugout, Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer walked to the back of the mound and PA announcer Ryan Wagner delivered his signature, “JAY-JAY HAR-DEE.”
The 23,424 in the stands rose to their feet and cheered.
“Definitely caught me off guard and I had to fight some emotions. I’m thinking, ‘Why are they doing this now? Going to have to play a whole game after this.’” Hardy said. “So, when the fans started getting loud, I thought that was cool. Just seemed like it took a long time and it was very well appreciated.”
The ovation grew to the point that the mild-mannered Hardy stepped out of the box and waved to the crowd as his teammates and the visiting Rays applauded.
“I did notice that. It was special. Those are guys that I played against for the last seven years,” Hardy said. “I have all the respect for all of them, and it was pretty cool to see them also clapping.”
Then, in the fourth, Hardy provided something to really cheer about. His fourth homer of the season – to left against Archer – broke a tie and gave the Orioles’ a 6-4 lead that they ultimately turned into a 9-4 victory.
Hardy received another standing ovation as he rounded the bases, and the fans wouldn’t sit until he came out of the dugout for a curtain call.
“Manny (Machado) shoved me out there. I didn’t really have a choice,” Hardy said. “Also, another cool moment. Today is a day that I’ll always remember, for sure.”
Yes, this season was a lost one on many fronts.
But it was fantastic to see Hardy, a consummate professional and quality human being, homer and be recognized by everyone in the park.
“It’s one of those things when he hits the home run and we’re in the dugout going, ‘Really?’
I don’t think it surprises anybody,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s one of those guys, everybody says you don’t how good he is until he’s gone, I think everybody here knows how good he is.”
Hardy made a point that this may not be it for him. He’ll take the offseason to see what his options are and then decide whether he’ll play again in 2018.
“He’s got some good baseball ahead of him,” he said. “You think of J.J., you think about the word efficient. Trustworthy. Impactful to his teammates. We’re very lucky to have had him pass our way. We’ll see what the future brings.”
Tillman’s last stand, too?
Things didn’t go as swimmingly for right-hander Chris Tillman, who had to be an emergency starter Sunday in place of Dylan Bundy. He learned about 90 minutes before the game started that he would be pitching.
“I found out right around 12, enough time, enough time to pitch,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to start by any means, but I had a pretty good idea I was gonna pitch today (in relief), so I was ready.”
On Tillman’s first pitch, he yielded a home run to Kevin Kiermaier. He also allowed a home run to Jesus Sucre, and was charged with four runs on six hits and a walk in a four-inning no-decision. Afterward, Tillman and Showalter both felt like Tillman’s outing, especially at the end, was encouraging.
“You know what? Those last couple innings, I felt pretty good about it,” Tillman said. “Even early on when Sucre did some damage on the changeup. I felt like it was a pretty good changeup. And if I would’ve had that changeup all years we would be having a completely different story.”
Tillman is a pending free agent, so it’s possible that was his last game as an Oriole pitching at Camden Yards. Showalter hinted that Tillman likely will pitch next weekend at Tampa Bay in some capacity, maybe get one more start.
Until then, Tillman’s ERA sits at 7.71 ERA in 91 innings – the worst elongated stretch of his fine career. If this is it for him in Baltimore, it’s a shame it ends this way considering how good this guy has been for the franchise. He made 30 starts and posted double-digit wins in his four previous seasons and had an ERA under 4.00 in three of those.
“Let’s see what the future brings for both of those guys, OK? They’ve got some good baseball ahead of them, both of them,” Showalter said about Tillman and Hardy. “It’s that time of year I don’t say, ‘goodbye,’ I said, ‘see you later.’ I’m really, really bad at goodbyes, especially to people you’ve gone through the things you’ve gone through with Chris and J.J. We kind of went through this together here.”
Bundy scratched from start
There was some talk about whether the Orioles should just shut down Bundy, the club’s prized 24-year-old right-hander after he exceeded last year’s innings total by 60. But the thought was he’d get at least one more game, Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Well, he was dealing with a left hamstring strain while preparing for the outing, and the Orioles decided not to risk further injury.
Although Showalter will “never say never,” it’s expected that Bundy will not pitch again this season. It was a good one, considering it was Bundy’s first full season as a big league starter. He ended up 13-9 with a 4.24 ERA in 28 starts over 169 2/3 innings.
Sisco’s power, defense
Showalter talked before the game about the timing being right to give rookie Chance Sisco a start behind the plate in the home finale. It was supposed to be with Bundy on the mound, but regardless it would be a good test for the 22-year-old Sisco, offensively and defensively.
Sisco didn’t fare particularly well against Archer, striking out and grounding out in two at-bats. But he homered to right center on a 91-mph fastball from reliever Jake Faria in the sixth. The kid has hit when he’s got the opportunity. And it looked like he did OKbehind the plate too on Sunday, catching the final out on a tricky foul pop.
“I thought he presented himself well,” Showalter said. “Chris (Tillman) was quick to the plate, they don’t run much on him. The pop-up was tough. I thought he was pretty calm with that. Waited a long time to throw his mask away and didn’t let it drift on him like a lot of guys get too far under it.”
Jones leaves before the fourth
Center fielder Adam Jones was removed from the game before the fourth inning due to general leg soreness. He was replaced by Joey Rickard.
Jones has been playing through leg pain, off and on, this season. And, with the Orioles no longer alive for a playoff spot, it didn’t make sense to have him try to push through another game. You have to wonder how much the 32-year-old will play for the rest of year – if at all — especially with the Orioles ending the season on the Tropicana Field turf.