J.J. Hardy enjoyed a memorable afternoon during an otherwise dreary season, hitting a crowd-pleasing home run and scoring twice to help the Baltimore Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-4 on Sunday.
Rookie Chance Sisco also homered for the Orioles, who earned a split of the four-game series to finish their home schedule with a 46-35 record.
On Saturday night, however, Baltimore was mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt and assured its first losing season since 2011.
In this one, most of the 23,424 fans rose to their feet and cheered when Hardy came to the plate in the first inning. A fixture at shortstop for Baltimore since his arrival in 2010, the 35-year-old Hardy has a contract that has a $14 million team option for 2018 with a $2 million buyout.
After three straight injury-riddled seasons — including a stay on the 60-day disabled list this year — and the acquisition of Tim Beckham in a trade with the Rays, it’s likely Hardy won’t be coming back. Hardy followed the initial standing ovation with a groundout, but he gave the crowd something to yell about in the fourth, when he ripped a two-run homer off Chris Archer (9-12) to give Baltimore a 6-4 lead.
The fans cheered as he rounded the bases and remained on their feet until Hardy finally acknowledged their request for a curtain call by emerging from the dugout and raising his helmet toward the sky.
Hardy added a single in the sixth and scored ahead of Sisco, who made it 8-4 with his second big league homer.
Kevin Kiermaier and Jesus Sucre homered for the Rays, who trail Minnesota for the final AL wild card by six games with six to play.
It’s been a miserable September for Archer, who’s lost all five of his starts and gotten past the fourth inning in only one of them.
Right-hander Chris Tillman started for the Orioles in place of Dylan Bundy, who was a late scratch with a left hamstring strain. Tillman allowed four runs and six hits in four innings, a stint too short to enable him to earn his first victory in 18 starts since May 7.
Mychal Givens (8-1) got five outs for the win.
After Kiermaier homered on the game’s first pitch, Baltimore answered with a four-run first. The key hit was a two-run double by Adam Jones, who left in fourth inning with what the team described as “general leg soreness.”
Tampa Bay pulled even in the second when Brad Miller hit an RBI single and Sucre followed with his seventh home run.
3B Evan Longoria and RF Steven Souza were both held from the starting lineup. “I thought it was just time for them to get a day and double it up with the day off (Monday),” manager Kevin Cash said.
After taking Monday off, Tampa Bay sends lefty Blake Snell (4-6, 4.01 ERA) up against the host Yankees on Tuesday night.
Republished with permission from the Associated Press.