When you’re starting pitcher throws eight innings of one-run baseball one would think you’d be an easy winner, right? In fairness to the Baltimore Orioles, the ends do justify the means. For starters, “Tillman Island” came into Alcatraz’s neighborhood, and dominated the San Francisco Giants. Tillman’s line: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K. The nine strikeouts are a career-high for Chris Tillman, who at one point retired 14 straight hitters. The Orioles got on the board early when Manny Machado scored from third on Adam Jones‘ RBI-single in the first inning. J.J. Hardy led off the second with a homer, and the O’s were off to a 2-0 lead.
However San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong seemed to settle down after that. While they had issues getting on base, the ebb and flow of their offense wasn’t exactly normal with Tillman in the #9 hole as opposed to Roberts or someone else. But teams like the Orioles surrendering their DH is part of interleague baseball. That aside, Brandon Belt sent a solo homer into the stands in the sixth, cutting the Orioles’ lead to 2-1. However for the most part that’s the only mistake that Tillman made. At & T Park is a pitcher’s park, so the Orioles did seem to cater their game to the ballpark rather well. It’s also similar in design to Camden Yards, which seemed to make the Birds right at home.
The O’s took that 2-1 lead to the ninth, and Belt promptly led off with a single on the first pitch. Buster Posey would draw a walk, and suddenly the winning run was on base for San Francisco. Hunter Pence sent an RBI-single up the middle (scoring Belt), and suddenly Johnson had a blown save and the game was tied. One thing that struck me about Johnson’s outing was that I had the impression he wasn’t trusting his stuff. He seemed to want to fool hitters as opposed to trusting his stuff, as well as trusting the best defense in baseball behind him. However he did promptly record three outs after allowing that one run. I’ve said in the past regarding starting pitchers that the nature of the position is that one will get himself in trouble at some point. What separates the men from the boys is how you deal with that trouble when it comes. While he did blow the save, to Johnson’s credit he limited the damage in a situation when you either had to limit the damage or lose the game outright.
The mark of a true winner is one that stays cool when the going gets tough. As soon as Pence’s hit cleared the infield the Orioles knew that they would either walk off losers on the night, or have to win it in extras. Manny Machado’s one-out double in the 10th inning put a runner in scoring position, and San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy opted to IBB Adam Jones and pitch to Chris Davis. This is really the first time we’ve seen a team have to make that type of decision in a crunch-time situation, and it worked to the Orioles’ favor. Bochy also played his infield in so as to try to cut Machado down at the plate, but Davis sent a deep shot to center (over the heads of the outfielders). Both Machado and Jones scored on Davis’ two-RBI double, and Davis himself would later score on Matt Wieters‘ RBI-single.
To the Orioles’ credit, the bats seemed to come alive again when they were most needed. Furthermore it’s worth mentioning that they put more than one run on the board. Heading to the last of the 10th with a 3-2 lead would have put them in the same pressure cooker that they were in back in the ninth, with no margin for error. Tommy Hunter retired San Francisco 1-2-3 in the last of the inning, and the Birds had a solid win.
This is the type of game that these O’s won over the course of last year, but we haven’t seen it too often in 2013. Most of Johnson’s blown saves have ended up as losses, and this one looked to be going in that direction with the winning run at third and nobody out. Let’s also keep in mind that while the Giants have struggled and been rattled by injuries this year, they are the defending champions (which makes them battle-tested).
The series continues this afternoon with a 4 PM start in a game that will be shown on FOX television. Wei-Yin Chen will take the ball for the O’s, coming off of a hard-luck loss last week to Seattle. He’ll be opposed by Chad Gaudin of San Francisco.