First off, apologies for the lateness of this recap. Stacey, myself, and several other Camden Chatters were cheering on Eat More Esskay (Mark Brown) as he competed in the finals of WNST's Next Media Superstar contest. Mark did a great job in his final five-minute audition, though unfortunately he wasn't picked as the winner. For my money, though, his knowledge of the Orioles far exceeded everyone else in the running. This kid's going places, folks.
Now, on to today's game. Several Camden Chatters were also at this afternoon affair-- which started at 12:30-- and they unanimously agreed on one thing: it was incredibly, unbearably hot. The box score says that the game time temperature was 84 degrees, but IT LIES! Even people who were just watching the game from the stands were drenched in sweat, so I can only imagine how uncomfortable the heat must've been for the players on the field.
You wouldn't know it, though, by the impressive performance the Orioles turned in today. Once again the victory was keyed by a quality outing from a starting pitcher, this time Chris Tillman. Never before in his major-league career had Tillman won two consecutive starts, but this afternoon he followed up his excellent outing in Cleveland with another victorious effort. He didn't get off to the most glorious start when he walked the first two Rays batters of the game, but at that point he found a groove, inducing a double-play grounder and striking out Matt Joyce to escape the jam, then cruising along for the next five innings.
Double plays were a huge part of the game for the Orioles...and, for once, they weren't the ones hitting into them. Tillman erased a leadoff walk in the second with another GIDP, and in the fourth the Birds pulled off the strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out twin killing as Ryan Roberts fanned and Matt Wieters cut down Joyce at second.
The game reached the halfway point with no runs on the board, as Rays starter James Shields matched Tillman with four scoreless frames. The O's stranded two runners apiece in the first and second, continuing their frustrating stretch of futility with men in scoring position. In the fifth, though, the Birds finally broke through in a big way. A Nick Markakis single, J.J. Hardy hit-by-pitch, and Jim Thome walk loaded the bases with one out. Adam Jones then delivered the big hit, grounding a single into left field to plate two and give the Birds the game's first lead.
Oh! That reminds me of one of the most ridiculous things I heard from one of the WNST contestants. One guy said that the most disappointing Oriole this year was Adam Jones, because he's gotten "lazy" since he signed his $80 million extension and is on-base percentage is down "around .300." Never mind, of course, that Adam's OBP is actually .337, and that he's been the Orioles' best hitter all season. Oh, and there was also a contestant (a Yankees fan) who said that the Orioles should trade Dylan Bundy for Ryan Dempster. Sheesh, people, if you're going to compete in a contest to be a sports talk show host, please try to know what you're talking about. (Thankfully, neither of those contestants won.)
Back to the game. The Birds weren't done piling on runs in the fifth. After Wieters walked to re-load the bases, the slumping Chris Davis picked a good time to find his hitting stroke, lashing a gapper to left-center for a bases-clearing, three-run double. It's 5-0 Birds! That multi-run explosion was exactly what the flagging O's offense badly needed. Davis added to his enjoyable day by bashing a solo homerun off Burke Badenhop in the seventh.
The Orioles' hurlers took it from there. Tillman carried his shutout into the seventh before he began to tire (or melt from the heat). A leadoff walk and two consecutive doubles plated the Rays' first two runs and chased Tillman from the game. Chris had a decent if not overpowering outing; he allowed just two runs in six innings, though the four walks weren't a great sight. Still, it was plenty good enough to win.
The bullpen kept the Rays from inching any closer. Darren O'Day got three outs in the seventh to strand the inherited runner, and Pedro Strop set down the side in order in the eighth. Jim Johnson worked the ninth in a non-save situation; he allowed the first two batters to reach, but snuffed the threat with a double play (the fourth turned by the Birds) and a groundout. With that, the Orioles had averted a three-game sweep, pulling a game ahead of the Rays back into second place in the AL East. Up next: a wild-card showdown with the red-hot Athletics.