by Paul Folkemer/Pressbox
The Orioles wrapped up their 2015 schedule Oct. 4, a season during which they fell short of expectations. They settled for a moral victory by avoiding a losing season, finishing with an 81-81 record by sweeping the New York Yankees.
The Birds’ final game brought a bit of a somber atmosphere on a chilly day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The O’s players knew they’d be heading their separate ways after the game, having failed to make a repeat appearance in the postseason. But they also knew Oct. 4 may have represented the final game in a Baltimore uniform for several key Orioles.
If it was indeed the Orioles farewell for the pending free agents, most of them went out with a bang. And in the case of first baseman Chris Davis, it was two bangs.
Davis brought the crowd of 33,224 to its feet on multiple occasions. Prior to the game, he received a loud ovation as he was presented with the 2015 Louis M. Hatter Most Valuable Oriole award. He then spent the remainder of the afternoon justifying that honor.
In his first at bat, a Davis double was sandwiched between singles by two other pending free agents — right fielder Gerardo Parra and catcher Matt Wieters — to give the Birds a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
In the home half of the sixth, Davis swatted an opposite-field two-run home run off Yankees righty Bryan Mitchell, extending the Orioles’ lead to 7-1 and bringing the crowd to its feet.
He wasn’t finished. Davis came up to bat a final time during the bottom of the eighth inning, facing right-hander Caleb Cotham with a runner aboard. Orioles fans rose in unison, knowing it could be the last time he would ever take a swing as a member of the Birds.
As if written in a movie script, Davis delivered one final moment of glory. He crushed a two-run home run over the right-field scoreboard, giving him his eighth multi-homer game of the season. It was his 47th blast of the season, giving him the major league home run title for 2015. And with his four RBIs Oct. 4, Davis finished the season with 117, second in the American League behind Toronto’s Josh Donaldson (123).
The Camden Yards crowd went crazy, giving Davis a thunderous standing ovation as he circled the bases and greeted his teammates in the dugout.
“I was pretty fired up after I hit the first one,” Davis said. “And then the second, I was almost in shock as I ran around the bases.”
The fans’ reception didn’t go unnoticed by Davis.
“I can’t express how much I appreciate the support of our fans,” Davis said. “The fans supported me throughout, whether it was good times or bad times, and I really appreciate that, the way they treated me and my family. It’s pretty special to me.”
Manager Buck Showalter couldn’t help but be impressed by Davis’ heroics during what might have been his final game as an Oriole.
“I think whether that’s the case or not, [it] put an exclamation point on the quality contributions he’s had,” Showalter said. “It’s been fun to have a great seat to watch him. He’s been very good for our city. I’m happy. He’s really established himself here in Baltimore. I felt very honored to be a part of that.”
Though Davis was the most visible star of the game, other pending free agents contributed as well. Wieters and Parra each collected two hits and two RBIs, and right-hander Darren O’Day worked a perfect eighth inning in a setup role, as he’s done many times during his four seasons with the Birds.
With each player, Showalter knew it might be the last time he’d be managing them with the Birds.
“Of course you think about that,” Showalter said. “You try not to dwell on it, because you’ve got a job to do. … We’ve become quite a family, something that I really wanted to do when I came here, and make everybody feel like they’ve got a stake in this.”
Right-hander Chris Tillman started for the Orioles and allowed two earned runs in 5.1 innings. That was just enough to lower his season ERA below the 5.00 mark for the first time since Sept. 1. Tillman finished the 2015 season with a 4.99 ERA.
Four O’s relievers finished off the 9-4 Baltimore victory to wrap up the season. After falling to 76-81 Sept. 30, the Birds won their final five games of the year to finish 81-81. It was the second time in O’s history that they finished with exactly a .500 record, something Baltimore also did in 1957 (when the team finished with a 76-76 mark).
“This time of year, you reach for small victories,” Showalter said. “They didn’t give in. I was kidding them that they were my cup of coffee every day, because regardless of how you come in or out, they come in the next day ready to play. And everybody feeds off that, coaches, teammates. And this is hard to do. As you’ve heard me say many times, to keep that mentality, their competitive fire never wavered.”
Still, Showalter wanted — and expected — better from the 2015 season overall.
“It’s not good enough, 81-81 isn’t good enough,” he said. “We’re trying to win. We want to be the last team standing, the last city standing. And our city deserves that.”
The Orioles will need to wait seven months to give it another try. And when they return to the field in 2016, their roster could have a very different complexion.
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