If you’re a fan of pitching, last night’s Baltimore Orioles game against San Diego was for you. Orioles’ starter Chris Tillman had his struggles, and in fact he got off to an inauspicious start when Carlos Quentin bashed a solo home run in the second inning. Tillman also had a few guys on base here and there, and got himself into a few jams. However as I’ve said previously, pitchers are going to get themselves into trouble over time; it’s the nature of the position for the most part. It’s how you deal with the guys on base or “the jams” which separates the men from the boys.
If we’re talking about runs surrendered, Tillman dealt with the “trouble” very well. The aforementioned home run was the only run he gave up. Tillman’s line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K. That’s a pretty decent stat line from the Orioles’ standpoint. However the one area where Tillman did struggle just a bit was the same aspect in which Oriole starters have struggled all year: pitch count. Part of that has to do with the seven strikeouts, as that costs a bare minimum of 21 pitches right there. After four innings Tillman had thrown 92 pitches, but he finished with 112 total pitches in the game (over his final three innings he only threw 20 pitches total). Tillman seemed to step it up a notch in the sixth inning when Carlos Quentin made another home run bid (or at the very least a bid for extra bases) by sending a shot to center field. However Adam Jones chased the ball down and made a leaping catch at the wall, awarding Quentin nothing more than a loud out for his trouble.
The Orioles tied the score at one in the third inning when Ryan Flaherty sent an opposite-field home run into the left field grandstand. For the record, San Diego starter Andrew Cashner was as solid as Tillman was. I think that there are probably a lot of Orioles’ fans out there this morning who are complaining about the team’s offensive production last night, and perhaps justifiably so in many aspects. However this was an old fashioned pitchers’ duel. Guys not getting on base is what happens in these kinds of games. San Diego manager Bud Black probably left Cashner in just a bit too long, as he started to elevate his pitches in the last of the eighth. Ryan Flaherty drew a walk, and was lifted for pinch runner Alexi Casilla…who promptly stole second and then went to third on an E2. Steve Pearce‘s RBI-single scored Casilla, and the O’s suddenly led this game late by the score of 2-1.
So with the Orioles taking the lead in the last of the eighth, that meant the top of the ninth was Jim Johnson time. Johnson of course held a team record of 35 consecutive saves converted (and counting). Good morning, good afternoon, and good night, right? Generally speaking, yes. San Diego had two outs and a runner on third, and Chris Denorfia sent a single up the middle which scored the runner from third and tied the game. That goes as a blown save for Johnson, ending his consecutive games saved streak. Nick Hundley was hit by a pitch, which put Denorfia in scoring position, and Everth Cabrera‘s RBI-single scored Denorfia. Suddenly the Birds trailed, and while they got the tying run on base in the last of the ninth they were unable to bring it across home plate.
The issue at hand is not Johnson’s consecutive games saved streak, but moreso the fact that this was a game that the Orioles would rather not have dropped. However the fact is that a baseball season comes with 60 wins and 60 losses all but guaranteed. Included in those 60 losses will be games like this. For the Orioles, it seems that the shoe is almost always on the other foot in these kinds of games, especially at home. Furthermore with regard to Johnson, as Buck Showalter always says, we’re dealing with human beings here. Nobody feels worse about that than Johnson, but even he knew that at some point he’d blow a save. As I said above, pitchers will eventually get themselves in trouble. Jim Johnson’s no exception to that.
It’s also easy to say that the Orioles would have won this game had they gotten more people on base, scored more runs, etc. That goes without saying. However the ebb and flow of the game was that of a pitcher’s duel. Today might well be an offensive shoot out for all we know. part of baseball is taking the good with the bad. Luckily for the Orioles, not only do they get back on the horse today, but they get to do so early. This afternoon’s series finale is a 12:35 “businessman’s special.” All of Birdland – I REPEAT – All of Birdland has my expressed and written permission to skip out of work to attend today’s game! That aside, Freddy Garcia will take to the mound for the Birds this afternoon, against a San Diego team of which he was a part during Spring Training. He didn’t make the roster out of camp, and later signed with the O’s. Garcia will be opposed by crafty southpaw Jason Marquis.
Incidentally, the Orioles made a few roster moves prior to yesterday’s game. Wei-Yin Chen was sent to the 15-day DL with a strained oblique, and as a corresponding move the O’s recalled Alex Burnett. On Monday the Orioles had also optioned Mike Belfiore back to triple-A Norfolk; yesterday they announced the corresponding move, which was to recall infielder Yamaico Navarro. With the off days being what they are, the O’s won’t need a fifth starter until next week. Burnett will serve as bullpen support and Navarro as bench support in the interim.