People, the key to victory has been right in front of us all along: Just throw 28 straight scoreless innings. It's such an obvious strategy! I don't know why every team doesn't do it.
The latest mound hero for the Orioles was former Mariners prospect Chris Tillman, who for the second time this season utterly dominated the team that traded him four years ago. Tillman followed in the footsteps of Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez by posting a slew of zeroes on the scoreboard before the M's finally scraped across a run in the eighth. The bullpen locked things down from there as the Birds began their 10-game homestand with a well-played win.
The Orioles' offense wasn't much to write home about. Mariners starter Jason Vargas has owned the Birds in his career-- he'd allowed just one run in his last 21 innings against the O's, spanning three starts-- and tonight he delivered another quality start, going the full eight innings. The Birds were held scoreless in all but one inning...but thankfully, they made the most of that single frame, a three-run outburst in the second.
Lew Ford got the rally started with a broken-bat bloop single to left. The next batter, Mark Reynolds, laced a gapper to the wall in left-center. In fact, it was hit to pretty much the exact same location as Taylor Teagarden's game-winner the previous day. Except, you know, five states away. Lew raced around the bases to score, which gives me the opportunity to break out all sorts of puns on his last name. Look how Ford motors! Man, Ford's got wheels! That Ford shifted to another gear! I've got plenty more of these if you want to-- no? All right, moving on.
Two batters later, leadoff man extraordinaire Nick Markakis blasted a two-run homer onto the flag court in right, extending the Orioles' lead to 3-0. It seemed as if the O's were finally solving Vargas, but the feeling was short-lived. After that inning, the Orioles amassed only three baserunners for the rest of the game, and one of them was a routine pop-up that shortstop Munenori Kawasaki lost in the lights for a gift single. The O's, perhaps hoping Kawasaki would screw up again, hit an alarming eight grounders to shortstop. He fielded them all cleanly.
Fortunately, Tillman made his meager run support stand up. He had Mariners hitters completely in his pocket for innings one through three, retiring the first nine batters he faced. Tillman's modest perfect game was spoiled when he walked Michael Saunders in the fourth, but he stranded the baserunner without issue. He then had his no-hitter hopes dashed in the fifth on Mike Carp's one-out single against the infield shift. Again, Chris got the last two outs with ease.
The Mariners didn't get a runner into scoring position until the sixth, when Kawasaki laid down a fine drag bunt past Tillman. Second baseman Omar Quintanilla attempted to make a running, off-balance throw, but chucked the ball into foul territory to give Kawasaki second base. The runner moved to third on a groundout, but Tillman then speared a smoked liner up the middle by Saunders, freezing Kawasaki at third and getting the out at first. He finished the inning with a flyout, keeping his shutout intact and running O's pitchers' scoreless streak to 27.
A leadoff single did no damage in the seventh, and so Tillman pitched into the eighth inning for the second time this year. He'd thrown only 87 pitches through seven innings, but he didn't look quite as sharp in his final frame. Eric Thames capped a six-pitch at-bat with a double to the wall, and Kawasaki too battled for six pitches before ripping a single up the middle. Thames crossed home, the first run scored off an O's pitcher since the sixth inning of Friday's game in Tampa. Still, the play turned out okay for the Orioles, as Reynolds cut off Adam Jones's throw from center and nailed Kawasaki trying to sneak into second. That's a big out right there.
Tillman was finished for the night, having worked 7 ⅓ outstanding innings and allowing just one run on five hits, striking out five. Yes, it comes with the standard disclaimer that he did it against the Mariners, who don't exactly have a major-league caliber offense. Even still, Tillman continues to look like a much improved pitcher this season and has provided some much-needed stability to an iffy O's rotation. He left the Camden Yards mound to a standing ovation.
Pedro Strop made things a bit nervewracking by throwing his first five pitches for balls, giving the M's a one-out baserunner on a walk, but he settled down to freeze Saunders on a 3-2 slider followed by an inning-ending liner to short.
Jim Johnson's ninth inning was a bit dicey as well, through little fault of his own. The M's put a pair of runners aboard on a couple of cheap infield hits, bringing up Thames with a chance to tie the game with an extra-base hit or put the Mariners ahead with a bomb. Don't worry about it. Johnson induced another ground ball, this one to J.J. Hardy, who briefly bobbled the ball but recovered to flip to second for the game-ending forceout. Let's put this one in the win column!