Oh, Orioles. I should really know better, but you're almost getting my hopes up again.
The O's came up big to beat Cleveland, riding Chris Tillman's redemptive quality start and-- for the second night in a row-- homeruns by bash brothers Jim Thome and Ryan Flaherty, the former a go-ahead blast in the seventh that carried the Birds to their fourth straight win.
I was in attendance at Progressive Field for this one, and I'll follow in Stacey's footsteps from last night and share a few thoughts about the Cleveland ballpark. First of all, the Indians fans in the bleachers were very welcoming to us O's backers, striking up a nice conversation about things to do in Cleveland, other ballparks that we might like to visit, etc. It's nice to see that opposing team's fans can be accommodating and pleasant, something we often forget when insufferable Yankees and Red Sox fans overrun Camden Yards with their drunken, obnoxious chants.
One other note: Looking at Indians fans' jerseys, T-shirts, and signs, the two that I seemed to see the most were for Jack Hannahan and Ricky Vaughn. It's probably not a great omen for the franchise when the two most popular Indians are a utility infielder and a fictional character.
On to the game. Chris Tillman was making his third start of the year, hoping to bounce back from his travesty in Minnesota in which he didn't finish the first inning. I'd say he rebounded quite nicely tonight. Even though Chris coughed up a homer to the first batter he faced, Shin-Soo Choo, he was outstanding for the rest of his night. He retired the next three batters, and then stranded Carlos Santana's leadoff double in the second on a groundout and two weak pop flies.
Tillman got some defensive help on back-to-back plays in the third, with Nick Markakis making a diving catch and J.J. Hardy ranging behind second base to field a tough grounder. Tillman didn't face any trouble again until the fifth, when a pair of singles put two Indians aboard with one out. Unfazed, he struck out Choo and retired Asdrubal Cabrera on a fly to left.
For six innings, unfortunately, it seemed as if Tillman's great effort would go for naught. The Birds' 10-run offense from the previous night was nowhere to be found against impressive Indians starter Zach McAllister. The right-handed rookie put on a strike-throwing clinic, going after hitters and pumping nearly every pitch into the zone. At one point by the fifth inning, McAllister had thrown 49 pitches, 40 of them for strikes. He had O's hitters down in the count early and made quick work of them, facing the minimum 12 hitters through four. Matt Wieters snuck a double to left in the fifth but the Birds didn't score, nor did they in the sixth.
The O's still trailed 1-0 heading to the seventh, but then something amazing happened. Not only did the Orioles take the lead, but the esteemed Stacey Long made a 100% perfect prediction about how it would happen. Before the top of the seventh inning, she said, "J.J. Hardy will hit a single. And then Jim-Jam... (points to the right-field seats)."
Behold! As it was said by the Bowser of Camden Chat, so it came to pass. Hardy led off the seventh with a single into left field. And then Thome burned his former team for the second straight night, crushing a no-doubt-about it two-run homer into the right-field seats to snap McAllister's shutout and give the Birds a 2-1 lead. Some people just have a gift for mashing taters. And some people have a gift for predicting people mashing taters. Well done, everyone!
Tillman had a lead for the first time, and even though his pitch count was 98 pitches through six, he was throwing so well that Buck Showalter stuck with him for the seventh. Tillman retired the first two batters before a Hannahan single ended his night. Excellent job by Chris, who delivered the Birds' fourth straight quality start: 6 ⅔ innings, one run, and four strikeouts to just one walk. He ended his night at 116 pitches, and lefty Troy Patton retired Choo to strand his baserunner.
Ryan Flaherty, of all people, gave the Birds an insurance run with a solo homer to straightaway center field in the eighth that chased McAllister. Flaherty entered the series with only two homeruns all season, and now he's hit two in back-to-back games.
The Birds' usual end-of-the-game bullpen duo took care of business from there, with Pedro Strop pitching a perfect eighth inning and Jim Johnson shutting the door in the ninth, fielding a comebacker for the final out to strand a runner at first. Orioles win again. Bravo, Birds. Way to represent for your fans who made the road trip to Cleveland!