As Buck Showalter often reminds people, winning a big league game is difficult. And it’s not just a cliche, it’s really true. For beginners, your starter has to at least keep you in the game. And that’s exactly what Chris Tillman did last night. Tillman didn’t struggle, but he didn’t bring his best stuff either. Tillman’s line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K. The key inning for Tillman was the fourth, in which he threw in excess of thirty pitches. An inning later he was probably down to his last hitter (with southpaw Brian Matusz warming in the pen) and needed one final out to qualify or the win, when he struck out Grady Sizemore to end the fifth.
The fact that this would be a long “grind-‘em-out” type of game was foreshadowed on the first pitch – which was lined to left field by Nick Markakis. The ball straddled the foul line, and was ruled fair. Boston manager John Farrell came out and challenged the call (yes, on the first play). Personally I believe that the ball was probably foul, however there wasn’t enough video evidence to overturn the call that was made on the field. Markakis would later be moved over to third by Chris Davis‘ ground out, and he would score on Adam Jones‘ latest infield single. While the Orioles may well have been helped by sketchy camera angles on a replay to a certain degree, they did exactly what they wanted to do against Boston starter John Lackey: score early.
Jonathan Schoop had a career day at the plate with four hits, including one to start off the top of the third. He would score on Nick Markakis’ second double of the night, and the Orioles would later load the bases on yet another Adam Jones infield single. Suddenly it was 4-0 as Nelson Cruz sent a two-RBI double to right field. Ironically, Lackey lasted longer into the game than Tillman did (albeit barely: 5.1 innings). However like Tillman he didn’t bring his best stuff, and who among us could really blame either of them with a game-time temperature of 36 degrees? Boston threatened in the fourth, but was only able to put across one run on an RBI-single by Holt.
The way that you beat Boston (since circa 2003 or so) is by continually adding runs on, and that’s exactly what the Orioles did last night. Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy added RBI-singles in the fifth to give the Birds a 5-1 lead, and it’s a good thing they did. Dustin Pedroia and AJ Pierzynski did the same in the last of the inning and the Orioles led 6-3. It’s tough to write a game recap on this game without mentioning how solid Brian Matusz was in relief. Matusz pitched 2.2 innings last night of one-run baseball, acting in effect as the team’s long man. And keep in mind that this is a guy who’s supposed to be the team’s lefty specialist (but someone that still wants to start). Darren O’Day was just as stellar as well, pitching 1.1 innings in relief.
The teams would trade runs in the seventh inning, with the Orioles’ coming off of a Jonathan Schoop RBI-double. Schoop would add another RBI-double in the top of the ninth to give the Orioles an 8-4 lead. That might have been the biggest run of the night from the perspective of the bullpen. That allowed Tommy Hunter, who had been warming up in the ‘pen to come in and close out the game, to sit down. It turned the game into a non-save situation (from Hunter’s perspective), so Buck Showalter didn’t have to use him. Ironically, the game was still a save situation for O’Day, as he had entered the game at a time when the Orioles were only up by three runs. (Call it a quirk in the rules I suppose.) O’Day allowed one walk in the last of the ninth, but he was able to close out the game to put the Birds back a game above .500.
The Orioles typified the concept of “hitting it where they ain’t” last night, and they were able to find a lot of holes in Boston’s infield. They were also 6-for-17 with runners in scoring position, which always helps. As I’ve said a few times, the bullpen couldn’t look more solid. A game like this really shows you where your bullpen stands, and thus far the Orioles’ ‘pen has passed that test. Both Matusz and O’Day saved Buck Showalter from using an extra reliever, putting the O’s in good shape entering today’s game.
The Orioles have a quick turnaround today as game two of the series is scheduled for 1:3o PM. I’ll be very interested to see how Buck Showalter handles Matt Wieters, as the Birds had a day off on Thursday but today is in fact a day game after a night game. Might Wieters see some time at DH? To further compound things, the O’s have a morning game after a night game on Monday. (Late morning for sure, but still morning!) Bud Norris will get the start this afternoon for the Orioles, and he’ll be opposed by Boston’s Felix Doubront.