I was a little surprised to see Chris Tillman head back out to the mound in the last of the ninth inning yesterday. To that point Tillman had thrown 101 pitches in a game that might well have been his best as a pro. However I thought it would have been acceptable to give him the rest of the day off, but he was able to convince Buck Showalter that he was good to go for another inning. Tillman would ultimately hit the showers a bit early after a Victor Martinez double, however…as I said, it might well have been the best performance of Chris Tillman’s career. Tillman’s line: 8.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K.
Matching Tillman almost pitch-for-pitch was Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who in my opinion is the best pitcher in baseball. Verlander was exactly what the Orioles didn’t want to see on a day where they were still looking to get their bats officially broken out for the season. Furthermore, it didn’t help that J.J. Hardy was scratched from the lineup just prior to game time with more back spasms. Hardy’s status moving forward into the New York series and beyond is currently
unknown. The spasms were in a different spot than they were a few days ago, but all Buck Showalter could say after the game was that the hope is that he’ll be back “sooner rather than later.”
The two pitchers matched each other through three innings, however Tillman gave up a solo homer to none other than Tori Hunter (who torched the O’s all weekend). Thus the Birds found themselves behind after losing two games where they had initially led. Tillman was also helped out by a dazzling connection between Steve Lombardozzi (who went deep into the hole to get to a grounder) and Chris Davis (who stretched about as far as a grown man should be able to stretch in order to pick the ball) to close the third inning. Nick Markakis and David Lough would also make key catches over the course of the game to preserve the Orioles’ standing in the game, and to ensure that they didn’t lose the lead once they got it. The O’s tied the game in the sixth when Adam Jones hit a double and was later doubled home by Nelson Cruz.
Nick Markakis sent a drive deep into the right field corner in the eighth inning, and his heads-up base running allowed him to get to third base (with one out). That brought Jones back to the plate, only needing to hit the ball medium-way out of the infield for the O’s to take the lead. Jones worked the count full, fouling off various pitches before finally recording an out with a line drive to left center. However that allowed Nick Markakis to tag from third base and scoring, giving the O’s a 2-1 lead late in the game. You can’t overstate how clutch Jones’ at-bat was, as he continued to prove how he’s turned into a much more patient hitter. The same can be said about Markakis’ heads-up base running, as if not for his astuteness in getting to third base he would have died at second.
The Orioles still had one more trick up their sleeve however, with Matt Wieters sending his first home run over the fence in 2014 in the top of the ninth inning. That’s probably one of the reasons why Tillman was granted the opportunity to go back out for the last of the ninth, however Tommy Hunter put the finishing touches on Tillman’s gem, and the O’s snapped their four-game losing streak.
You could see the Orioles dedicating themselves to having good at-bats yesterday, possibly for the first time over the course of the season. And as they move onto NY tomorrow that’s definitely a huge thing. While NY is struggling thus far in 2014, they’re still a very potent team with good pitching. Today’s game is at 1 PM, as it’s New York’s home opener at Yankee Stadium. (The O’s and Yanks will also play tomorrow at 1 PM, completing the Orioles’ fifth consecutive afternoon game – but that’s tomorrow.) Ubaldo Jimenez will be on the mound for the O’s, and he’ll be opposed by Hiroki Kuroda of New York.