Chris Tillman came into his latest start with a career 1-1 record, and a 3.38 ERA against the Texas Rangers. His one win came over two years ago, in 2010. Cliff Lee had just been acquired by the Rangers from Seattle, and was making his Rangers’ debut. It was one of the very first times Orioles fans were able to get a glimpse of the Tillman that could be, as he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, leading the O’s to a 6-1 win in Arlington. Often the evolution of a young starter is a slow process, and such has been the case with Tillman. But, it’s safe to say that it appears that Tillman is putting it together. His latest leap forward came Tuesday night in Texas, as he pitched the Orioles to a 5-3 win.
It helps when, before he even strolls to the hill, a pitcher has a lead. Tillman’s mates saw to it. Rangers starter Scott Feldman (L, 6-9) retired both Nick Markakis and JJ Hardy in succession to start the game. Then, Nate McLouth worked the right hander for a walk, coming back in the at-bat from down, 1-2. McLouth stole second, and moved to third when Geovany Soto, trying to nail McLouth, threw it away. Feldman then uncorked a wild pitch, and the Orioles, with plenty of help from the Rangers, had a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, the Rangers got even when Ian Kinsler poked his 14th homer of the year, just clearing the wall in left.
The Orioles put together a four-run fifth inning that, offensively, was the difference in the game. Manny Machado belted a one-out, RBI triple just out of the reach of center fielder Josh Hamilton, breaking the 1-1 tie. One out later, Hardy reached out for a 91 MPH fastball away, and drove it down the right field line. Hardy’s 21st double scored Machado, and gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead. McLouth stepped in, and on Feldman’s third pitch to him—a 90 MPH fat fastball—he blasted his first Orioles home run. The Orioles were on top 5-1. But against this Texas Rangers team, with one of the most potent offenses in the game, at no time was it ever really a comfortable lead.
That wasn’t Tillman’s fault, though. While he was far from dominant, Tillman (W, 6-2) was very good against Texas. In the fifth, he gave up a two-out single to Mitch Moreland, and stranded him. Adrian Beltre picked up a two-out double in the sixth, but stayed right there. In the seventh, he was nearing the end. David Murphy singled on a second consecutive changeup. And with one out, a 94 MPH fastball caught too much of the plate, and Soto launched it into the first row of seats in left field for his second home run since joining the Rangers. After striking out Moreland on his 101st pitch of the game, Tillman’s night was over. His line: 6.2IP, 3ER, 6H, 2HR, 7K, 1BB.
Darren O’Day came on and got into immediate trouble against his former team. Kinsler walked, and Elvis Andrus singled him to second. Buck Showalter again went to the bullpen, this time for Pedro Strop. The flame throwing righty, usually summoned in the eighth inning when the birds have a lead, would have to come on early, with Josh Hamilton up representing the potential go-ahead run.
Strop fell behind 2-0. He was down in the count 3-1. Then, a foul ball, for a full count. With two outs, the runners would be off with the pitch. Anything in the gaps would most certainly tie things at 5. Of course, the balls in the gap aren’t the biggest things to fear with Hamilton up. Pitch six of the at-bat…an 83 MPH slider…fouled off. Then, on pitch seven, Strop snapped off another tight slider, breaking hard, down and in, and the All-Star center fielder waved at it and missed. Strike three. Out number three.
Strop tossed a less dramatic eighth inning, and Jim Johnson picked up save number 38 in a perfect ninth.
The O’s and Rangers wrap up the three-game series Wednesday. Going for Texas is lefty Derrick Holland (7-6, 4.98), who hasn’t won since July 31. Former Ranger Tommy Hunter (4-7. 5.49) goes for the Orioles. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05.
- Great rebound for Tillman, after back-to-back sub-par outings.
- Hits for all but two O’s starters (Wieters, Quintanilla). Two hits for Manny Machado, a single and a triple. He was actually called out trying to stretch his single into a double, but second base umpire Tony Randazzo missed the call. They didn’t review it.
- Who is this year’s Orioles MVP? There is no shortage of candidates, to be sure. Adam Jones. Jim Johnson. Wei-Yin Chen. Before the All-Star break, you’d have to give Jason Hammel some consideration. One player it almost certainly won’t be is a guy without whom the Orioles would be nowhere near where they are now. Pedro Strop is lights-out, throwing heat in the high-90s, and sliders that make some of the best hitters in the game look foolish. But what he did Tuesday was special, even by his standards. Not only was he facing, perhaps the most dangerous hitter in baseball…a guy who has murdered Orioles’ pitching…in Josh Hamilton. He had to do it with inherited runners on, which is not usually his role. He generally starts the eighth inning, with no one on and no one out. There’s a little comfort in that situation, as opposed to the utter mess he was thrown into Tuesday. Another amazing performance for Pedro Strop.
- The normally reliable O’Day was not: 2 Batters Faced. 1 hit. 1 walk.