After a solid pitching duel last night from Jeremy Guthrie and David Price, many would have thought coming in to tonight that Chris Tillman and James Shields were both downgrades from the Opening Day matchup. In what became a pitcher’s game at Tropicana Field, the Orioles were able to pull off a victory in a game that gave the O’s the automatic series win. As Dan Connolly of The Sun pointed out, it took the Orioles seven losing series last season before they won their first one.
Tillman and Shields both started off with a slow pace for the first few innings of the game, but as the innings moved on both settled into their spots. Tillman pitched six scoreless innings for the Orioles, allowing no hits on five strikeouts and three walks. If not for his high pitch count of 101 he would have stayed in the game. With only 58 strikes in his six innings, he had command issues all night, but mostly with locating his curveball and keeping the fastball down in the zone. Though he worked high counts to the majority of hitters he faced, he was able to keep batters guessing by frequently mixing in a changeup that really kept the Rays off in their timing.
Jeremy Accardo came out of the bullpen for the Orioles in the 7th inning, issuing the first hit of the game for the Rays to center fielder B.J. Upton, followed by an intentional walk after Upton stole 2nd. Kelly Shoppach stepped up to bat next with two outs and he to left field. The ball floated in to defensive replacement Felix Pie who made the stellar throw to home plate where Wieters held on as Upton ran him over. In a 0-0 tie at this point in the game, the throw by Pie really helped to make sure that momentum did not go totally into the control of Joe Maddon and his Rays.
Shields, who used to be known for having one of the best changeups in the American League, definitely showed why tonight. Though Orioles hitters got four hits off of him in his 7.1 innings pitched, he was able to mix in a changeup that got the Orioles bats swinging, striking out seven on the night. Shields was taken out in the eighth inning after a Mark Reynolds single and J.J. Hardy walk.
Jake McGee, a rookie LHP for the Rays, came in relief for Shields, and with the two men on, Brian Roberts stepped up to the plate. On a 1-1 count, Roberts took McGee’s third pitch, a fastball left up in the zone, over the left field wall (video), giving the Orioles a huge 3-0 lead in the top of the 8th on the home run.
After striking out Nick Markakis on four pitches, McGee was relieved by RHP Kyle Farnsworth, another new piece to the Rays’ bullpen. A Derrek Lee single to right center was followed by Vladimir Guerrero fly out to center, ending the inning, but not before the Orioles took the first lead of the game.
In a scare during the bottom of the 8th inning, when with LHP Mike Gonzalez in the game, the Rays drew two straight walks before Johnny Damon flew out to foul ground for the first out. Gonzalez, not able to find much control early on, was taken out at this point in turn for RHP Koji Uehara. Uehara struck out Sam Fuld looking, and on the first pitch to Many Ramirez, Ramirez struck a ground ball single to left field, scoring one with no play at the plate and putting the Rays on the board.
A ground ball from 1B Dan Johnson ended the inning, and subsequently ending the Rays lone threat of the game. RHP Kevin Gregg came on in the 9th inning for the Orioles, and after giving up a lead off single, one walk, and a strikeout, saw the game flash before his eyes on a deep fly ball by Ben Zobrist caught against the outfield wall by Nick Markakis, a defensive gem that robbed Zobrist of a walk-off home run (Video). Gregg recorded the save as the O’s got the W by the score of 3-1.
With news yesterday that Brian Matusz would be sidelined with a left intercostal strain and Tillman being pushed up to pitch tonight’s game, it was then announced that Zach Britton would be called up to pitch tomorrow’s series finale against the Rays. Britton will make his MLB debut facing newly extended RHP Wade Davis. The game can be seen on MASN 2 and MASN 2 HD at 1:40 PM.