Tue, Sep 26, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Hardy hits crowd-pleasing homer as Orioles beat Rays

AP, BALTIMORE, Maryland

Taiwan’s Hu Chih-wei of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning of their American League game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, on Sunday.

Photo: AP

If this was indeed J.J. Hardy’s final game at Camden Yards with the Orioles, he could not have asked for a better scenario.

Hardy on Sunday enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon during an otherwise dreary season, hitting a crowd-pleasing home run and scoring twice to help Baltimore beat the Tampa Bay Rays 9-4.

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, Baltimore were mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt and assured their first losing season since 2011. So the focus in the finale shifted almost entirely to Hardy, a fixture at shortstop for Baltimore since his arrival in 2010.

Three straight injury-riddled seasons — including a stay on the 60-day disabled list this year — lessened his contribution. The acquisition of shortstop Tim Beckham in a July trade with the Rays makes the 35-year-old Hardy expendable, especially with a contract that has a US$14 million team option for next year with a US$2 million buyout.

So most of the 23,424 fans rose to their feet and cheered when Hardy came to the plate in the first inning.

“Definitely caught me off guard and I had to fight some emotions,” Hardy said. “I’m thinking: ‘Why are they doing this now?’”

Because the Orioles arranged it, that is why.

Team officials told the umpires and the Rays that they were setting up the ovation, which included Hardy’s teammates walking to the top step of the dugout.

“We kind of snuck that in behind J.J.’s back because we know what he would have said if he knew it was coming,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

“When the fans started getting loud I thought that was cool,” Hardy said.

He followed the initial standing ovation with a ground-out, but 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 to the sky.

“Manny [Machado] shoved me out there. I didn’t really have a choice,” Hardy said. “Another cool moment. Today is a day that I’ll always remember, for sure.”

Even the Rays appreciated the moment.

“It’s just amazing how that kind of works out. He comes up and hits a home run,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “It wasn’t good for us, but it’s good to see good things happen to good players.”

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