What had been assumed for the past month became official yesterday when Delino DeShields was named Most Valuable Oriole in balloting among writers and broadcasters.
Nine players received votes, with pitchers Jose Mercedes and Mike Mussina finishing second and third, respectively.
DeShields, in his second season with the Orioles, led the club with 166 hits while providing a veteran presence on a roster taking a youthful turn. He batted .296 with 10 homers and 86 RBIs, and his 37 stolen bases ranked third in the American League. He never had driven in more than 58 runs. DeShields also hit a career-high 43 doubles, tied for second-most in Orioles history.
Limited to a career-low 96 games last year because of injuries, DeShields appeared in 151 this season. It was his most games since playing 154 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996.
"I'm happy with my season," he said. "I just feel like I've played 11 years and really haven't accomplished a lot of things I wanted to accomplish. I haven't been to an All-Star Game. I've been to the playoffs a couple times. I feel like it's going to happen here. I've got a feeling something special's going to happen for Delino DeShields one day. Hopefully, it'll be here."
DeShields committed 11 errors at second base before moving to the outfield for the first time in his career to make room for Jerry Hairston. He made 38 starts in left field, gradually becoming more comfortable and impressing manager Mike Hargrove with his willingness to learn. Hargrove already has projected DeShields as the starting left fielder next season.
Within a season of changes, DeShields also dropped from second to third in the order while providing the Orioles' most consistent bat.
"He's been the model of professionalism this year," Hargrove said. "What we saw this year is the Delino DeShields, at least the one I know. He showed up every day and did not offer excuses for a poor performance and didn't expect pats on the back for a good one.
"He went about his business, and after the trades and all our young kids came in, Delino really stepped up and became a leader in the clubhouse and on the field. I couldn't be happier and more proud of Delino DeShields for what he's done for this club."
The Sports Boosters of Maryland will present the award to DeShields at a banquet Nov. 2 at Martin's West.
Hairston settles in
When camp broke last spring, Hairston knew he was going north with the Orioles. He also knew it was temporary.
Not wanting Hairston's progress stalled by sitting on the bench, the Orioles sent him to Triple-A Rochester while keeping Jesus Garcia as their utility infielder. Hairston didn't appear in a game until being recalled Aug. 11, after needing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder three months earlier.
Hairston again expects to be with the Orioles when spring training concludes next season, this time as the regular second baseman. He started the last 49 games there after leaving Rochester, batting .256 with five homers, 19 RBIs and eight stolen bases. He went 18-for-55 (.327) in his last 14 games.
"With the guys we've added and the trades we've made, the past week or so we really started to gel and mesh," Hairston said. "Hopefully we can carry that into next season. This team is so much more exciting to watch. Hopefully we can keep the same guys and continue to build upon this. But the big thing is signing you-know-who."
Hairston didn't need to elaborate. He was referring to Mussina.
Trombley settles down
Mike Trombley struck out the side in the seventh as part of his 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed five earned runs in his last 24 1/3 innings.
His most pronounced improvement this season came in keeping the ball in the park. Trombley served up 10 homers in 27 2/3 innings in the first half of the season, and five in 44 1/3 innings in the second.
"I think it was a case of a guy trying too hard and trying to justify the fact that he came here as a free agent," Hargrove said. "He finally settled down and became the pitcher we had seen before."
Trombley's 75 appearances were one short of Tippy Martinez's club record, set in 1982.
Mercedes gets the start
Consideration was given to not starting Mercedes yesterday, but Hargrove sent him to the mound after meeting with the right-hander after Saturday's game. The other option was a starter-by-committee approach, with Hargrove repeatedly dipping into his bullpen.
"With it being the last day of the season, we toyed with making it a bullpen day like we did the first time [Chuck] McElroy started, but decided not to," Hargrove said.
Mercedes allowed two runs in five innings, giving him 145 2/3 innings this season. He went 11-3 in the second half, the most wins in the American League.
Around the horn
Yesterday's crowd of 47,831 gave the Orioles 17 sellouts this season, the same as in 1999. Their total attendance was 3,295,185. They drew 3,433,150 last season. ... The Orioles swept a three-game series from the Yankees for the first time since Sept. 9-11, 1991.