BOSTON—Game 162 typified the Orioles’ 2019 season. There were some excellent plays, and some absurd ones. The result was one final loss, the 108th, 5-4 to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.
A wondrous play extended the game in the eighth, and a careless one ended it in the bottom of the ninth.
It was fitting that the exceptional play and the poor one were committed by the same player, Stevie Wilkerson.
On a team as bad as this season’s Orioles, players were given extensive opportunities. Wilkerson was given the chance to play the outfield, and became the first position player to record a save on July 25th.
On Sunday, with the score tied at 4 and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Jackie Bradley Jr. sent a fly ball to right that appeared to be heading for the seats. Wilkerson went back, caught the ball as he jumped above the wall near the 380-foot marker and then tumbled onto a lower part, using his right leg and arm to push off the wall to keep from falling completely into the stands. He took a home run away from Bradley in spectacular fashion.
“I just saw the ball go up,” Wilkerson said. “I knew he put a charge into it and I tried to get back to the fence and got up and made an athletic play.
“When I was tracking it down, I had a bead on it, so I knew if I had the space to get to it, I’d have a chance to get it. But going back on them, you never know if you’re going to get beat by the wall or not. But I had a good bead on it and just jumped up and grabbed it.”
Wilkerson didn’t think he was going to fall into the stands.
“Not when I leapt up for it but when I came down, I realized I was sitting in a couple people’s laps,” he said.
Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t think Wilkerson had a chance to catch the ball.
“I thought that ball was 30 rows in off the bat. I just put my head down and then I see him tracking it and I’m waiting for him to fall over into the bullpen or into the crowd, thinking he had no chance at it, and all of sudden he comes out of it with the ball. Just one of the better catches I’ve ever seen.”
The game remained tied at 4, and after the Orioles didn’t score in the top of the ninth against Brandon Workman, Dillon Tate walked leadoff hitter Mookie Betts in the bottom of the ninth.
Rafael Devers singled off Richie Martin’s glove. Martin was playing on the right side of second. The ball bounced to Wilkerson in right. Betts easily made third, and he saw Wilkerson casually toss the ball into the infield. Betts took off for the plate and scored the winning run.
“The ball hit off Richie’s glove, I came in and got it, and I’ve got to do a better job of picking it up and just getting the ball in,” Wilkerson said.
“Obviously, it’s something I’ll learn from, but not the way you want to end it.”
It wasn’t the only bad play by Wilkerson. He lost Gorkys Hernandez’s sinking line drive in the third in the sun for a triple. Three batters later, he misplayed Devers’ single that scored the second run of the inning.
“The sun out there during a 3 o’clock game here is really, really tough,” Wilkerson said.
“I was battling it the whole game. Seeing balls off the bat was very difficult for 7 1/2innings. So, yeah, you know it’s a tough place to play right field during the day. But I did my best.”
The Orioles end the season 54-108, a seven-game improvement over 2018, but miles away from contention.
“We play with a ton of heart,” Hyde said. “Bounce back like we always do and just fall a little bit short, which we’ve done so many times this year.
“I’m proud of our guys, proud of the effort. Love the way we played this series. Even though that team’s not going to the playoffs, it’s still a really good team and a really good lineup.”
The Orioles had won the first two games of the series against the Red Sox, and completed the season without a series sweep.
Boston started Eduardo Rodriguez, and Hyde countered with Chandler Shepherd, who allowed three runs, two unearned in five innings.
“We faced a guy going for his 20th win today,” Hyde said. “They had the varsity club in there trying to get it for him and we just did a great job of competing. Chandler Shepherd gave us way more than we could have asked. But a very short bullpen today, also, with a bunch of guys who weren’t going to throw. He went a long way for us, which was huge.”
Villar plays 162: Jonathan Villar played his 162nd game on Sunday, and drove home the tying run in the eighth to make it, 4-4.
“It was an important part for me, because I put in preparation to my body before I came into spring training,” Villar said. “Also, because I love to play the game. That was nice for me.”
He finished the season with a .274 average, a .792 OPS, 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases.
No word on coaches: There’s no timetable for the Orioles to name their coaching staff for 2020. A week ago, general manager Mike Elias declined to comment on whether there would be changes.
“I’m not sure about that,” Hyde said. “We talked a little about that, but I think Mike is going to evaluate things a little after the season and that’s probably a question for him, to be honest about it.”
Hyde spoken highly of the coaches. “They’ve been fantastic,” he said.
“They’ve been incredibly supportive. It’s a worker group, and it’s a grind group. When we were putting the staff together, we were targeting these kind of guys. They’ve been just amazing, player development guys that created great relationships with our players.
“There’s always been a great vibe in our clubhouse, and a good vibe on the field and the dugout, and the players have said that those guys have had a lot to do with that. I’ve been very, very fortunate in my first year to have a group around me like that.”
Hyde on Maddon: From 2015-18, Hyde served as a coach under Joe Maddon with the Chicago Cubs. Though he expected Maddon to be fired, Hyde was still upset when he learned of his dismissal before the game.
“One hundred and eight years is a long, long time,” Hyde said, speaking of the gap between Cubs World Series titles.
“Joe made it easy on everybody. He’s going to be celebrated in Chicago for a long time. I love him. He’s just a class guy that did amazing things there.
“No one’s ever going to take away [going to] three National League Championship Series in a row, that World Series in ’16 and postseason four years in a row, and completely changing the culture there.
“He’s going to go down as a Chicago legend.”
Hyde is confident Maddon will have his choice of managerial opportunities.
Mancini finishes outstanding season: Trey Mancini, who was named Most Valuable Oriole, batted .291 with 35 home runs, 97 RBIs and an .899 OPS in his first season as unofficial team leader.
“I feel really good about it,” Mancini said about the Orioles’ direction. “Last year, last game of the season, there was so much uncertainty leaving the field after that game, not knowing exactly who was going to be back.
“Now, I think we’re going in a pretty clear direction, and I like where we’re headed.”
Mancini emphasized that he wants to stay with the Orioles.
“I’ve always felt strongly about it,” Mancini said. “That’s never wavered. I wasn’t anticipating getting traded at the [July 31] deadline, and I’m glad I didn’t.”
Mancini said that for the Orioles to improve, they must do better in close games. The Orioles were 11-22 in one-run games.
“Winning the close games is the difference between winning 54, 55 games,” Mancini said. “I think we could have easily gotten close to 70 this year. We let a lot of games slip out of our grasp.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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