The Orioles lost a heartbreaker tonight. A starting pitcher with less than stellar stuff worked through his troubles to keep his team in it, the offense came back to take a lead against a tough starting pitcher, and the win was in sight. But a rare bad outing from closer Jim Johnson erased it all and the O's took the loss.
Chris Tillman tonight started off shaky and it looked like he might not make it through the lineup more than twice. He miraculously gave up only one run through the first four innings, and over his final three innings he looked like a completely different pitcher. After walking a batter with one out in the fourth inning, he went on to retire the final 11 batters he faced and finished with a pitching line of 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. That is a downright respectable night, and one that no one watching the game saw coming.
Tillman's night started off well enough. He retired the Padres 1-2-3 in the first inning, but thanks to nine foul balls between the three hitters he needed 20 pitches to get out of the inning.
The first batter Tillman faced in the second inning, Carlos Quentin, only saw two pitches. Unfortunately, the second landed on the other side of the left field fence to give the Padres a 1-0 lead. That was the only run the Padres against Tillman on the night, but it was just the start of Tillman's trouble. He got the next two batters out (thanks in part to a snazzy up-the-middle play by J.J. Hardy), then gave up two singles and hit Nick Hundley to load the bases. Tillman struck out Cabrera to end the inning and found himself with 45 pitches thrown after just two innings.
Tillman faced only three batters in the third inning thanks to a double play ball that erased a leadoff walk to Venable, and got Quentin to pop out to end the inning.
Padres starter Andrew Cashner pretty much owned the Orioles tonight. He faced seven batters through the first two innings then met his match in the third. The formidable Ryan Flaherty, he of the 17 OPS+ this season, stepped up to the plate. Flaherty was not intimidated by Cashner's beard nor his fastball and tied the game with one swing of the bat, a home run to left field.
Tillman continued to labor through the fourth inning, giving up a single and walk with one out before striking out Chris Denorfia and getting Hundley to ground out to end the inning. And from there on, it was like a switch flipped.
As he took the mound for the fifth inning, the crowd had to be wondering if he'd get through it. I know I was. But Tillman didn't falter. Two easy groundouts and a swinging strikeout by Headley and Tillman headed back to the dugout.
Cashner had cruised through the first four innings, but was the recipient of some good luck in the bottom of the fifth. After Hardy singled up the middle, Flaherty hit an absolute smash that happened to go right where the first baseman Alonso was standing. Hardy was easily doubled off and any hope of a rally was snuffed. Steve Pearce flew out to center to end the inning.
Against all odds, Tillman came back out for the sixth inning. The first batter up was Quentin, and he hit a drive that looked like extra bases at the least. But what's this? Why, it's Adam Jones! He raced back, back, back, he lept into the air and made a fantastic catch! What an amazing play to save Tillman's bacon. Yonder Alonso followed that with a much less exciting fly out to right field, and Tillman struck out Mark Kotsay to end the inning.
Tillman finished six innings! A quality start! Wow, that was exciting the way he pulled himself back together to make it that far. Well done, Chris. Get some handshakes in the dugout and call it a night...wait, what? Tillman came back out for the seventh! And not only did he come back out, but he looked fantastic. He struck out Jedd Gyorko, got a fly out from Denorfia, and ended his night with a strikeout of Hundley. I tell you, it was just fantastic watching Tillman get himself together on a night when he clearly didn't have his best stuff.
So Tillman was holding down the Padres, but the problem was that Cashner was doing the same to the O's. After Hardy's single to start the fifth inning, Cashner retired the next nine batters he faced. But then up to the plate again stepped his nemesis, Ryan Flaherty. After seeing Flaherty homer and hit a bullet off of him in two previous at bats, Cashner wanted no part of him. He walked Flaherty to put the go ahead run on first base with one out in the eighth.
Speed demon Alexi Casilla replaced Flaherty at first base and immediately tried to steal. It looked like he would have been out at second but Hundley's throw bounced into centerfield and Casilla went to third on the error. All Pearce needed to do was get a single and the O's would have the lead. It turns out that he was up to the task and blooped a fly ball out to left field that fell in for a hit. Casilla came in to score and all was right with the world.
Well, until Jim Johnson came in.
I have a hard time getting too worked up about Johnson blowing a save. Yes, it stinks. No, we don't expect it. But JJ is usually as perfect as can be. It's a little bit heartbreaking to watch him blow it, for sure, but everyone has a bad night. Unfortunately when it happens to a closer, it's magnified.
Do you want the details? JJ got knocked around as Alonso and Kotsay both singled on the first pitch they saw to put runners on first and second. Gyorko then smoked a ball that thankfully went right to Hardy at SS, who turned the double play. Alonso moved to third, but with two outs the end was in sight. Until it wasn't. Donforia singled up the middle to tie the game, then Johnson lost control. He hit Hundley to move the go ahead run to second base, and Cabrera singled to score Donofria and give the Padres the lead. Jones smartly threw the ball to third base to catch Hundley in a run down. He was tagged out to end the inning, but the damage was done.
Huston Street came in to close out the game for the Padres and quickly got Nick Markakis and Jones to ground out. That brought Davis to the plate. He and Street engaged in quite a battle, a nine-pitch affair that ended with Davis on first base with a walk. I think I love Chris Davis. That left it up to Wieters, who saw seven pitches himself. Unfortunately his at bat didn't end as well. He struck out to end the game.
That kind of loss hurts, for sure. There is only one thing left to do, and that's go out tomorrow afternoon and kick some Padre butt.