BALTIMORE -- Even in a season as challenging as 2019 was for the Orioles, bright spots abounded over the course of 162 games. There was drama, tension, triumph and highlight-reel moments that, despite the O's 54-108 record, are worth remembering. Such is the nature of baseball. Great moments can come anytime, anywhere.
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at Baltimore's 10 best moments from 2019:
1. Villar goes cycling
Aug. 5 vs. Yankees
Caked into this early-August 9-6 loss to the Yankees, some history: Jonathan Villar completing the fifth cycle by an Orioles player. Villar tripled against Masahiro Tanaka in the third, doubled off Tanaka two innings later and took Tommy Kahnle deep in the sixth to set the stage. When Villar dunked a single into right off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, he was not aware of the company he now kept. But it’s a small circle. Only Brooks Robinson (July 15, 1960), Cal Ripken Jr. (May 6, 1984), Aubrey Huff (June 29, 2007) and Felix Pie (August 14, 2009) have also cycled for the O's.
2. Stevie Sliders makes history
July 25 vs. Angels
This game technically didn’t conclude until the following day, and until commuters had already started to wake up back on the East Coast. Out west, the Orioles and Angels were locked in a topsy-turvy, 16-inning, six-hour, 19-minute marathon that depleted the pitching for both teams. By the 16th, the O's had given back a three-run lead and taken another two-run cushion on Villar’s go-ahead homer. And suddenly, in trotted Stevie Wilkerson from center field, set for his third career pitching appearance. Throwing mid-50 mph lobs, Wilkerson retired the side in order to clamp down Baltimore’s 10-8 win and notch the first save recorded by a position player in MLB history.
3. Villar sets all-time mark
Sept. 11 vs, Dodgers
The Orioles savored every win in 2019 -- and sometimes they came against the best teams in the Majors. That was the case in early September, when the O's snapped a six-game skid by running away with a 7-3 victory over the mighty Dodgers. It came courtesy of a solid John Means start and Villar’s go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh, the 6,106th home run in the Majors in 2019, setting a new MLB record.
4. Villar goes behind the bag
Aug. 11 vs. Astros
Villar is all over this list, and for good reason. There is an argument that he was the Orioles’ most valuable player in 2019; he was without a doubt their top all-around talent. No play showcased his defensive ability more than the one he made in the second inning of this 8-7 win over the Astros. Shifted to the right side of second base, Villar ranged back beyond the bag to make a diving backhanded stop, then fired a rocket to first to record the out. That took away what would’ve been an easy hit for Josh Reddick.
5. Catch of the Year?
Sept. 29 vs. Red Sox
Wilkerson waited until the last minute, but the play he made in the Orioles’ season finale will be replayed for seasons to come. Was it the play of the year? Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. thinks so, and he may be baseball’s premier home run thief. He was also on the wrong end of Wilkerson’s grab -- a game-saving robbery that left Bradley and the rest of Fenway Park speechless. The O's went on to lose, 5-4, but Wilkerson’s play stole the show nonetheless.
Afterward, Bradley said, “It was all a matter of time until my debts had to be paid.”
6. Stevie, again!
Aug. 17 vs. Red Sox
Another night, another sensational Wilkerson play at Fenway Park. This one came in center field, more than a month before Wilkerson robbed Bradley. Asher Wojciechowski was the beneficiary this time, and Mitch Moreland was the victim. Wilkerson’s grab helped keep the game scoreless in the fourth inning, but the Orioles went on to lose, 4-0.
7. Rio walks things off
Aug. 11 vs. Astros
It’s hard to remember a big swing the Orioles needed more than the one from Rio Ruiz that sent them to an 8-7 victory over the Astros, their only walk-off win of the year. Things were getting bleak by this point in August. The O's had dropped five straight games, lost 23-2 the night before and spent the week enduring the fallout from a dugout altercation between Chris Davis and manager Brandon Hyde. With Ruiz’s swing came catharsis, capping a Sunday afternoon the Orioles spent battling back.
8. Seven strong and a slam
May 6 vs. Red Sox
The Orioles won three of their first five games against the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Few of their victories against anyone came as clean as this 4-1 triumph over Boston, when Means twirled seven strong innings and the bullpen took care of the final six outs without a hiccup. Villar provided all the offense with his second career grand slam, the first of the O's season.
10. Santander’s amazing double play
June 8 vs. Astros
The Orioles will remember Anthony Santander's sophomore season for what he accomplished with the bat, as the former Rule 5 Draft pick broke out with 20 homers and was given consistent Major League at-bats for the first time. But one of his earliest impressions came with the glove, when Santander -- two days after a promotion from Triple-A Norfolk -- made the defensive play of the O's season to that point. Santander’s home run robbery of Yuli Gurriel began a spectacular double play that helped secure a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Houston.