The two starting pitchers in tonight's game, Chris Tillman and J.A. Happ, entered with 7.07 and 5.04 ERAs, respectively. So naturally they engaged in a serious pitching duel that held both teams scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning. Thankfully the Orioles pulled out the win thanks to a two-out, two-strike, walk-off single by Nick Markakis.
To say that Tillman hasn't been good this year is being kind. Coming into this game he pitched just 14 innings over his first three starts and in none of them did he look like he was in control of the game. Tonight it was like he was a different person, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Tillman got three quick groundouts to start the game, then after giving up a single and walk in the top of the second, he induced a ground ball double play from Colby Rasmus. Starting with Rasmus, Tillman retired seven in a row before walking the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning. But he faced just three batters in the inning thanks to another double play by Rasmus. He pitched another scoreless inning in sixth before the Blue Jays finally scored a run in the seventh. But before we get to that, let's talk about the other pitcher.
J.A. Happ has, like Tillman, had his troubles this season. But you wouldn't know it from tonight's game. Nick Markakis led off the game with a single to center field, and that was the last hit the Orioles would have off of Happ until there were two outs in the bottom of the fifth when Alexi Casilla reached on an infield hit to third base. The only chance that the Orioles had for a rally was in the second inning when Happ walked J.J. Hardy and then hit Steve Pearce with one out. Unfortunately the Orioles couldn't do anything with the chance as Nolan Reimold and Casilla stranded the runners.
That bring us to the bottom of the sixth inning, when something FINALLY happened. Don't get your hopes up though; it wasn't much. Manny Machado led off the inning with a single, then Adam Jones hit a ball hard towards third base. Brett Lawrie dove and the ball hit off of his glove for a single. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch by Happ, but Matt Wieters couldn't knock them in. He hit the ball hard, but right to the shortstop, and the runners had to hold.
Chris Davis came to the plate looking to plate a few runs, and he hit a ball that looked crushed off the bat. But between the cold weather and the wind blowing in, nothing was getting out of the ballpark tonight. Davis had to settle for a sacrifice fly to right field to give the O's a 1-0 lead. It was the second ball of the night hit by Davis that probably would have been a home run in different weather.
Jones moved to third base on the sacrifice, but Hardy was unable to knock him in. He grounded out to third base and the Orioles handed Tillman the slimmest of leads. Spoiler: the lead didn't hold.
Tillman struck out Jose Bautista to start the seventh inning, then gave up a solid single to Edwin Encarnacion. He then struck out Adam Lind and just had to get one more out to be the first Orioles starter to pitch seven innings in a game.
The Orioles employed a shift against J.P. Arencibia that left the right side almost completely wide open. Tillman got a ground ball but unfortunately it went right to where the second baseman would normally be standing and into right field for a single. Encarnacion went to second base and Rasmus stepped to the plate.
Rasmus had already hit into two double plays in the game and is generally not a very good hitter, but he got lucky. Tillman threw him a pretty good pitch and Rasmus chopped it to the right side. It just barely got through the infielders for a hit. Blargh! Encarnacion scored and the game was tied.
In a different circumstance, Buck Showalter probably would have left Tillman out there to get the final out. But in such a tight game and with runners on base, he had little choice but to pull him. Darren O'Day replaced him and wasn't at his best. But as I've said before, a not-at-his-best O'Day is still pretty good. He walked Brett Lawrie to load the bases but then struck out Emilio Bonifacio to end the inning.
It looked like the Orioles might get something cooking when Happ walked Steve Pearce to start the seventh inning. Happ was immediately replaced by Steve Delabar, who got Reimold to ground into a double play. Curses! Casilla struck out to end the inning and that was that.
O'Day came back out to pitch the eighth inning and immediately walked Munenori Kawasaki. Maybe the cold was affecting him, I don't know. Kawasaki is not the kind of guy you normally walk. But O'Day struck back and got the next three batters to preserve the tie.
Machado tried to start a rally on his own in the bottom of the eighth. He walked with one out and stole second base, but unfortunately Jones struck out for the second out. That left the rally up to Wieters, who sadly struck out.
With no chance for a save situation, Jim Johnson came in to pitch the top of the ninth and was his regular JJ self. A fly ball out for Lind, a strikeout of Arencibia, and a groundball to first base for Rasmus made for a quick top of the ninth.
Chris Davis was the first batter in the bottom of the ninth inning and the crowd was itching for a walkoff home run. He'd already been denied twice by the wind and cold, but if anyone in the park tonight could overcome those obstacles, it was Chris Davis. But he didn't even get a chance as the first pitch from Aaron Loup hit him. The crowd booed as Davis took his base.
Hardy was up next and he bunted Davis over to second base. I know there are a lot of conflicting feelings about bunts, but given Hardy's inability to get on base, it's understandable. Of course, on the flip side is the fact that the next batter after Hardy was Steve Pearce, who hasn't had much success this year. Sure enough, Pearce popped up for the second out. So much for the bunt.
With two outs and the winning run on second, the Blue Jays opted to intentionally walk Reimold to get to Casilla. Give that Loup is a lefty, the move made sense. The only righty on the bench was Taylor Teagarden, and they wouldn't use him. It worked, too. Casilla hit a ground ball to the shortstop Kawasaki, and it looked like extra innings were in the future.
But wait! Kawasaki made a bad throw! It skipped away from Encarnacion at first base and everyone was safe! The Orioles had been given an extra chance. Specifically, Nick Markakis got the chance. He watched two strikes to go down 0-2, then fouled off a pitch. In the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Markakis hit a decent pitch the opposite way. Would it stay fair? It did! Davis came in to score the winning run as the Orioles mobbed Markakis at first. Gotta love a walk off!
Tomorrow the Orioles will be back in action at 7:05 as Miguel Gonzalez will do his best to outduel R.A. Dickey.