BALTIMORE -- The applause began slowly. Orioles fans were eager to thank their longtime shortstop, and this shy man, sensed what was happening.
J.J. Hardy heard the cheers and watched as his teammates stood in the dugout to thank him and shockingly saw the Tampa Bay Rays do the same.
In all likelihood, it was Hardy’s final day at home as an Oriole.
After his first at-bat in the bottom of the first, which ended with a force out, Hardy would bat three more times. In his next at-bat, he slammed a two-run home run to left that put the Orioles on their way to a 9-4 win against the Tampa Bay Rays before 23,424 at Oriole Park Sept. 24.
“Definitely caught me off guard and I had to fight some emotions,” Hardy said of the first inning scene.
“I’m thinking, ‘Why are they doing this now? Going to have to play a whole game after this.’ 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.”
Oriole fans won’t hear “Flower,” Hardy’s long-time walk-up song by Moby, but they’ll remember watching him trot around the bases.
Hardy hadn’t played much since missing nearly three months with a broken right wrist he suffered June 18, and he hadn’t homered since May 24.
“It was a pretty good moment,” Hardy said “I definitely didn’t expect that to happen today. I was just going to go out there and try not to embarrass myself. Turned out to be a pretty good day.”
Hardy has a $14 million option for 2018 that would have vested if he had 600 plate appearances this season, which he will not. The Orioles can buy him out for $2 million -- or they could try and negotiate a reduced rate contract for the 35-year-old.
“We’re talking about it like 100 percent I’m not coming back here,” Hardy said. “I know they’re not going to pick up my option, but I feel like there’s probably still a [small percentage] chance that I could come back. Definitely, I feel like I’m an Oriole for life. These seven years have been … I couldn't have asked for more.”
Right-hander Chris Tillman, who started on short notice when right-hander Dylan Bundy was scratched about 90 minutes before game time, could also have appeared in his final home game in Baltimore. He was glad to see the fans appreciate Hardy.
“I didn’t expect it,” Tillman said of the ovation for Hardy. “But, it was cool. It was a cool day for J.J. That was pretty cool to be a part of. He’s been probably the best teammate I’ve had here. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Manager Buck Showalter, who warned home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom before the game that the Orioles wanted some time to appreciate Hardy during his first at-bat, is an unabashed admirer of Hardy’s.
“I don't think it surprises anybody,” Showalter said about Hardy’s home run.
“J.J. has delivered a lot of things the team has needed over the course of his time here. We'll see what the future brings. 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. He's got some good baseball ahead of him.”
Bundy probably won’t pitch again this season. Center fielder Adam Jones, who left the game with leg soreness in the fourth inning, probably won’t play in the final five games. Shortstop Tim Beckham, who supplanted Hardy, strained his right hamstring Sept. 24 and might not play, either.
Hardy will play some in the last week, and would like to play next year, if possible.
“Honestly, I’m going to see what my options are if I have any at all, and then we’ll kind of go from there,” Hardy said. “As of right now, I still feel like I can play, and we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Hardy won’t forget the day or when he stepped out of the dugout to acknowledge the fans after his home run. Third baseman Manny Machado made sure he wouldn’t.
“Manny shoved me out there. I didn’t really have a choice,” Hardy said. “Today is a day that I’ll always remember, for sure.”
Noted: Chance Sisco got his first start at catcher, and hit a two-run homer. … After an off-day, right-hander Kevin Gausman (11-10, 4.61) faces right-hander Trevor Williams (6-9, 4.18) as the Orioles open a two-game series at Pittsburgh Sept. 26. … Season attendance was 2,028,424, an average of 25,042. … left fielder Trey Mancini has a 14-game hitting streak.
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