BALTIMORE — After being locked up long-term with a six-year, $85.5 million contract earlier this season, it was already safe to say 2012 would be a memorable season for Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.
But with the club on the verge of clinching its first postseason berth since 1997 and Jones setting new career highs in multiple categories, the 27-year-old was asked if the year could have gone any better for him — to this point, anyway — after being named the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole, the second straight year he’s received the honor.
“What more can you ask for? We’re not done yet though,” said Jones prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox. “We’ve got four games left and it’s four games deciding it. There’s not one team that’s clinched an AL playoff berth, so we’ve still got four games to get it done. It doesn’t get any easier.”
In a season of unlikely heroes and a degree of success no one outside the Orioles clubhouse anticipated, Jones is the first to tell you there were many deserving candidates for the honor. But whenever the Orioles have needed a big hit late in the game, Jones has topped the list of many players to deliver in key spots.
In addition to setting new personal bests in home runs (32), doubles (39), hits (183), runs (102), extra-base hits (74), stolen bases (15), and OPS (.846), Jones became the first major league player in the last 40 years to club three game-winning home runs in the 12th inning or later in one season. With one more double in the season’s final four games, Jones will become the fifth player in franchise history to hit 30 home runs and 40 doubles, joining Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, and Aubrey Huff.
The individual recognition is appreciated by Jones, but the 91 wins next to the club’s name in the American League East and his teammates’ contributions are much more important to him.
“I think there are some other deserving guys,” said Jones, who also mentioned Matt Wieters and Chris Davis as worth candidates. “Like I said, I’ve lobbied for Jim Johnson and our whole entire bullpen pitching staff. I appreciate it, but I can’t do any of this without my teammates. There’s the reason why we’re all out here and where we’re at. It’s getting named to me, but it is a team award. I think the whole team deserves it.”
Jones has played in all 158 of the Orioles’ games entering Sunday, which is a new career high in his fifth season in Baltimore.
His impressive numbers at the plate and stellar defense in the outfield earn most of the publicity, but Jones’ dependability is what manager Buck Showalter values most. Finding the rare player that you can trust in the long haul is a difficult task, but Jones fits the description, according to the Orioles manager.
Instead of talking about Jones’ game-winning homers or acrobatic catches this season, Showalter pointed to Saturday’s game against the Red Sox, a night in which he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In the bottom of the fourth, Jones’ hustle down the line allowed him to reach on an errant throw by Boston shortstop Mike Aviles. Two batters later, Davis hit a two-run homer into right to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
“Last night was a great example why he’s a deserving guy,” Showalter said. “For me, it’s running out that ground ball and getting us [an extra] run. When you think about that sticking out, it tells you how hard it is to do for some people. I think that’s what I’ve been proud of [with] Adam. Not only posting up [every day], this guy played in the All-Star Game. He plays. He’s there, you can count on him.”
Anyone who’s followed Jones’ time in Baltimore has seen the maturity. Early in his career, the young outfielder desperately wanted to be the clubhouse leader but simply wasn’t ready.
Leadership cannot be forced, but five years into his Orioles career, Jones has grown into the unquestioned leader of the team. His burning obsession to win complemented the managerial guidance of Showalter that contributed to the Orioles growing up faster than anyone could have imagined this season.
“We’re all in it together,” Jones said. “This is one great year for us all, and it’s not just me who’s the most valuable player. I think there’s a lot of other guys here who’ve contributed in large amounts and they could be named this just as well as I could.”
NOTES: Wieters and Johnson were the only other players to receive first-place votes, with Johnson finishing second and Wieters third. Pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and right fielder Nick Markakis also received votes. … Jones is the seventh player in team history to win the award in consecutive season, joining Frank Robinson (1966-67), Boog Powell (1969-70), Jim Palmer (1972-73), Eddie Murray (1981-85), Cal Ripken (1990-91) and Rafael Palmeiro (1995-96). … He is the first Orioles player to reach the 100-run plateau since Brian Roberts in 2009. … The center fielder is the first player since Mark McGwire in 1988 to homer in the 15th inning or later twice in the same year. … Jones had a career-long 20-game hitting streak in May.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Jones’ reaction winning the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole award HERE.