Going into the sixth inning tonight, it looked like worst-case scenario for the Orioles would be a perfect game from Brandon Morrow, and the best-case scenario would be a hard luck loss for Chris Tillman, who pitched a heck of a game, But then, in the the bottom of that inning, the O's bats came alive and took away Morrow's perfect game, no hitter, shut out, and finally his lead. Adam Jones led the offensive charge and Tillman and the bullpen pitched fantastically to give the Orioles just their third win in their last ten tries.
Chris Tillman pitched with higher velocity for his second straight big-league start, but unlike last Saturday in New York, he was able to get through the lineup more than once without falling apart. Tillman retired the first five batters he faced before Colby Rasmus took his fastball deep to center field for a home run. Now, Rasmus is a good baseball player who I'm certain will be giving the Orioles trouble for years, but the pitch he hit wasn't exactly a great one from Tillman. It was a 91 mph fastball pretty much down the middle.
After that mistake, Tillman settled in. Starting with the final out of the second inning, he retired ten batters in a row through the end of the fifth inning. In the third, he was helped out by the defense of Josh Bell at third base, as Bell made a great play on a ball that was smashed and a strong throw got Brett Lawrie at first.
Tillman didn't need any defensive help in the fourth inning, though, as he struck out side. And it wasn't the bottom of the lineup he was facing, either, as two of the strikeouts were to Jose Bautista and Adam Lind. In the fifth inning, Mark Reynolds made the first of a number of fine plays at first base to retire Rasmus. Reynolds ranged far to his right and cleanly fielded a tough hop to make the play. Unfortunately, because Morrow hadn't allowed a base runner to that point in the game, the Orioles went into the sixth inning down 1-0 despite the gem Tillman was pitching.
The sixth inning was Tillman's toughest of the game and was generally the kind of inning that gets away from the Orioles, allowing the other team to take control. But tonight that didn't happen. With Jose Molina at the plate, Tillman issued his first and only walk of the game. Lawrie followed that with a single, then Tillman grazed Yunel Escobar's elbow pad with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. It wasn't pretty, and I figured I was watching Tillman blow his great start with one horrible inning.
He proved me wrong, though. After Rick Adair paid a visit to impart his words of wisdom, Tillman induced a fly ball to right field from Eric Thames. Molina tagged at third, but didn't even think about going as Markakis gunned the ball perfectly to Matt Wieters at home. Bautista then hit a fly ball to center field that was only medium depth. Molina ran on that one and scored the second run of the game thanks to a double clutch by Adam Jones in center and a rare miscue by Wieters at the plate that allowed the ball to squirt away. With two down, Adam Lind grounded out to second and Tillman miraculously got out of the jam with only one run allowed. The Orioles were still down two runs to a pitcher throwing a perfect game, but I believe that Tillman working out of that jam changed the momentum of this game.
Nolan Reimold led off the sixth inning for the Orioles and broke up the no-no and the perfecto with a solid single to center. After Bell flied out, Blake Davis made his contribution of the day with single to right. The hustling Reimold (he is a gazelle, after all) went to third. Robert Andino hit a ball to shortstop that should have at least been a force at second, but it glanced off of Escobar's glove for an error. Reimold scored from third to break up the shutout. After Nick Markakis disappointingly popped out to third for the second out, Adam Jones came to the plate. Dr. Jones has hit nineteen home runs in each of the last two years, and was sitting on nineteen tonight until this at bat. Jones hit his twentieth home run of the year onto the flag court, and opposite field bomb that gave the Orioles the lead.
Tillman returned to the mound for the seventh and it was apparent he was near the end of the road. Edwin Encarnacion singled to lead off, but then Mark Reynolds made a fantastic play on a ground ball by Rasmus. He snagged a ball headed down the line and started a great double play to clear the bases. I tell you, Reynolds had a bad night at the plate, but in the field he dazzled. A ground out from Aaron Hill later and Tillman's night was over, and what a night it was. His pitching line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.
Buck Showalter turned to Jim Johnson for the eighth inning, and it was just another ho-hum JJ outing. 1 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K. The Orioles made some noise in the bottom of the eighth against Morrow, blowing the save opportunity for Kevin Gregg. Bell walked with none out, and after a failed bunt attempt from Davis, Andino was hit by a pitch in the driving rain. That brought Nick Markakis to the plate, and he hit a deep fly ball to right-center. I don't know exactly what happened, perhaps because of the rain the outfielders couldn't hear each other, but Rasmus and Bautista collided in the outfield. Rasmus made the catch for the out, but because of the collision, both runners were able to move up. Rasmus made a poor throw into second and Bell alertly raced home for the fifth run of the game.
Adam Jones followed those shenanigans with a more traditional run scoring play: a single up the middle. Andino scored easily to make the score 6-2. With Vlad at the plate, Jones got picked off at first to end the inning, but the replay showed he was probably safe. I think Balkin' Bob Davidson just wanted to get out of the rain.
It was no longer a save situation, but Gregg came in anyway. And you know what? He was fantastic. He had a very un-Gregg-like inning, needing only five pitches to retire all three batters he faced. The second out was on a diving play by Andino at shortstop, but his throw hit the dirt and Reynolds made a fantastic scoop for the out. This caused Gary Thorne to hoot and holler and exclaim, "Give him the gold glove right now!" Gary Thorne is insane, but I love him.
All in all, this was a well-played game and a treat for Orioles fans. I hope we can see more of it tomorrow.