Before Tuesday's game, the last time Alexi Casilla had hit a home run was August 8 of last year. The pitcher against whom he homered in that game was Justin Masterson. Tonight's starter for the Indians was Masterson. In the seventh inning, Casilla broke his homer streak and broke a 3-3 tie with a three-run shot. The Earl Weaver Special gave the Orioles a 6-3 lead that would last for the rest of the game and end the losing streak at four games.
Masterson had a night a bit like Zach Britton last night, in the sense that he was cruising, until suddenly he wasn't. He retired the Orioles hitters in order the first four innings. No hits, no walks, no errors: perfect. Adam Jones was the first Orioles baserunner, leading off the fifth inning. Through six innings, Masterson had only allowed three O's to reach base. He was flying comfortably into the seventh inning, holding a 3-1 lead, and then it all went wrong for him.
Jones led off the seventh as well, reaching base after he was struck in the back of his left thigh by a pitch. The dangerous Chris Davis stepped up to the plate and waited for his pitch. He swung with the carefree ease of a young child prancing through a meadow with a butterfly net. Davis struck the ball towards the end of his bat. For perhaps every other player in MLB, it was not a home run swing. For Davis, the ball flew into the Eutaw Street bleachers for his major league-leading 28th home run of the year, which knotted the game at 3.
Davis' homer was only the fourth hit that Masterson had allowed all night and Masterson was not yet at the magical 100 pitch mark. The downward spiral happened in a hurry and no one was ready in the Cleveland bullpen, so he kept on pitching. Unfortunately for Masterson, his effectiveness was gone. He proceeded to walk Matt Wieters, who has not made solid contact with a ball since ... okay, he homered yesterday, fine, but he has a .628 OPS in June. That sucks.
One batter later, Chris Dickerson hit a soft ground ball to third. It wasn't Mark Reynolds standing there tonight, but Lonnie Chisenhall could not get to it and throw to first in time. Dickerson reached on an infield single.
Casilla came up to the plate. Casilla, who was in the lineup because he had a career 9-26 off of Masterson, including three extra base hits. Casilla, who had not homered since the previous August, who was 0-2 on the night. Masterson was tired, on the ropes. He bounced a wild pitch and the runners moved up, then left the wrong pitch hanging to the wrong light-hitting middle infielder. Casilla's homer also landed in the bleachers, many rows closer to the fence than Davis'.
That is Birdland.
The runs all scored in support of Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who turned in that rare beauty from an O's pitcher, a seven-inning start.
Early in the game, there was no reason to believe Tillman could go seven. He issued back-to-back walks with one out to load the bases in the first, with Cleveland's first run scoring on a Michael Brantley sacrifice fly, but he escaped without any further damage. A shaky second inning saw Mark Reynolds reach on a leadoff walk, followed by a Chisenhall single that sent him to third base. Even a ground ball double play would score another run.
Luckily for Tillman, he induced a grounder to Manny Machado, who is completely awesome in every way. Machado alertly caught Reynolds too far out from third base and initiated a run-down, chasing Reynolds towards the plate until he tossed to Wieters for the tag out. He got out of the inning on his own and held Cleveland until the fifth, when Michael Bourn opened up with a double. One batter later, Jason Kipnis put the O's in a 3-0 hole with his tenth home run of the year, an opposite field shot that just kept carrying out to left center in the warm Baltimore night.
With the bats looking flat and Tillman pitching just well enough to lose, it looked like the Orioles would be heading for their fifth straight defeat. But it only takes one bad inning, and Tillman did what so many of his rotation mates cannot and outlasted Masterson.
All in all, Tillman did not have a great game: his control problems led to a number of deep counts, with four walks issued in seven innings never being a good sign. Neither is 13 first-pitch strikes to 29 batters. However, Tillman also only allowed four hits and got six strikeouts. Eight baserunners in those same seven innings is not too shabby. Neither is three runs in seven innings.
Especially with an offense like the Orioles, that'll win you the game most nights, as it did tonight. Pitcher wins and losses are not always fair, but Tillman fairly earned his tonight, improving to a 9-2 record on the season. Masterson fell to 9-6.
Troy Patton threw a scoreless eighth and Jim Johnson made the ninth a little interesting by allowing a walk and a single to the first two batters, bringing the tying run up to the plate with none out. Good Jim returned, inducing a double play by Chisenhall.
Bad Jim arrived for one more batter, with pinch-hitter Jason Giambi drawing a walk to again bring the tying run to the plate, this time with two out. Bourn struck out swinging to end the game and the Orioles were back in the win column again, ending their slide at four games and evening out the four-game series with the Indians. The save is the 27th of the season for Johnson, who leads MLB in saves despite his very bad stretch.
The Orioles only had four at-bats with runners in scoring position all night and were 1-4 - but when the one is a three-run home run by the unlikeliest player, that goes a long way. The O's scored six runs on only six hits. Home runs are cool, when the Orioles are the ones hitting them.