Chris Tillman shook off a horrendous second outing of the year with a terrific performance in Cleveland Saturday night, getting late-inning offensive heroics from a man who started his major league career when Tillman was 3 years old.
The Orioles improved to 33-14 in games decided by two runs or fewer in beating the Indians 3-1. Initially, it looked like both Tillman (W, 2-1), and eventual offensive hero Jim Thome, may be in for a long night.
Nick Markakis opened the game against Indians starter Zach McAllister (L, 4-2) with a single to center. McAllister struck out JJ Hardy, and with the shift on, Thome hit into the extremely rare 6-5-3 double play to end the threat.
Tillman took the hill, trying to cast doubt aside. He’s been enigmatic throughout his young career, and his first two big league starts in 2012 have been a microcosm: 8.1 innings of 2 hit ball in a win in Seattle July 4th, and then the game in Minnesota last Monday, when he gave up 7 runs (1 earned), and never made it out of the first. Will the real Chris Tillman please stand up? Unless it’s the Minnesota Chris Tillman. Then, we’d prefer the fake.
Minnesota Tillman threw the fourth Orioles pitch of the game. Shin-Soo Choo saw a belt-high, 92 MPH fastball down the middle of the plate, and cranked it over the right field fence for his 11th home run, and a 1-0 Indians lead.
Seattle Tillman took the ball for the rest of the game. He would not allow another run through 6.2 innings of work. Tillman struck out four, walked just one, and allowed six hits in his 116 pitch effort. Fortunately, he stuck around just long enough to see his gem turn into a “W”.
In the top of the seventh, Hardy led off with a single to right. The next batter, Thome, took advantage of one of the very few mistakes McAllister would make in the game, blasting a 1-0 fastball into the right field stands. The 41-year old veteran, whose first Orioles homer came with the birds already up big Friday, made his second O’s long ball (and 611th career home run) matter. It gave the birds a 2-1 lead.
Troy Patton came on for Tillman after Jack Hannahan singled with two outs in the seventh. Patton got Choo to bounce out on his second pitch, keeping the score 2-1 O’s into the eighth.
With two outs, the Orioles added an important insurance run. Ryan Flaherty battled McAllister in a nine-pitch at bat, fouling off four of them, before launching a fastball well over the center field wall for a 3-1 Orioles lead.
The late-inning duo of Pedro Strop (in the eighth) and Jim Johnson (ninth for his 29th) retired six of the seven tribe hitters they faced, sealing the Orioles’ fourth straight win.
The birds will go for five in a row when Zach Britton (0-0, 9.00) make his second start of the year in Cleveland Sunday. He goes against Josh Tomlin (5-6, 5.51). Tomlin beat the Orioles at Camden Yards on June 30, despite giving up 5 earned runs on 7 hits in 6 innings. Game time Sunday is 3:05.
- What is the common denominator in all four of the Orioles’ wins in the last four games? Terrific starting pitching. Tillman joined Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter, and Wei-Yin Chen as O’s starters who’ve been outstanding this week. This run reminds O’s fans of stretches in April and May.
- Thome and Flaherty have each homered in back-to-back games. Thome now has 611 in his career. Flaherty, though, is keeping pace, and remains just 607 behind.
- A good defensive game for the Orioles behind Tillman, as Markakis and Chris Davis made nice plays in the field.
- Just six hits for the O’s. They stuck out nine times, and walked just once, coming on the heels of Friday’s contest, when the birds pounded out eleven hits with eleven walks, and struck out seven times.