In the game notes prepared by the Orioles for Friday night's game, there was a note about Chris Tillman entitled, "Quietly Becoming An Ace". I scoffed at this. While an All-Star, Tillman had an ERA near 4 and only made it in because of having 11 wins. He responded by pitching seven innings of shutout baseball against the division-leading (and MLB leaders in runs scored) Boston Red Sox. They are the division leaders no longer. The Orioles rode Tillman's start and four home runs, including a pair of opposite field shots by Adam Jones, to a 6-0 victory.
The game was not one with an auspicious beginning. Tillman looked like he would not be long for the night. Though he retired the first two batters of the game on four pitches, he would have 22 pitches and the bases loaded by the time he struck out Daniel Nava to end the bases-loaded situation. This included back-to-back walks to David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. He ended the inning with 11 strikes and 11 balls. Five and dive? That's how he rolls.
Red Sox starter John Lackey had a much more ace-like ERA of 2.95 and he also retired the first two Orioles easily. The Orioles did a much better job of putting him on the ropes. Nick Markakis served a single to left and was standing on first when Jones hit his 21st home run of the year. Jones, who entered the game with a 7-32 off of Lackey and only one extra-base hit, took a mighty cut at a hanging pitch and drove it to the opposite field, where it landed just in front of the railing where fans stand on the flag court.
That put the Orioles up 2-0 and it would prove to be all the runs that they would need in the game.
More runs are always more fun. They were up to that challenge. Nate McLouth led off the third inning with a triple, and in this game, a leadoff man on third with no outs was driven home on the next batter when Manny Machado singled up the middle. Machado should have walked in the at-bat, but Laz Diaz's amorphous strike zone called ball four a strike. Responding with the RBI hit was nice to see. It was Machado's 49th RBI of the year. He leads the majors in hits with 135.
The lower third of the lineup tried to damage Lackey some more in the fourth. A J.J. Hardy leadoff walk was followed by a single from Henry Urrutia, giving the Orioles two men on and only one out. When Brian Roberts grounded a single of his own past a diving Dustin Pedroia, the Orioles should have had a promising bases-loaded rally. Unfortunately, the ghost of the Windmill (Juan Samuel) that continues to haunt the third base coaches box sent Hardy on the play and he was destroyed in spite of a weak bouncing throw from shallow right by Shane Victorino.
Third base coach Bobby Dickerson appears to operate under the philosophy that outfielders will screw up every play. This was working for him earlier in the season. It did not work tonight.
For good measure, Jones added another opposite field home run off Lackey in the fifth inning, which measured at 332 feet. That is what you might call a cheap home run. It still counts. It was Jones' 22nd home run of the season and his 74th run batted in.
Lackey would not be chased from the game until one more home run was hit off of him, when Machado sent Lackey packing with his ninth home run of the season with one out in the seventh inning. Lackey left with a 5-0 deficit, having given up a Tommy Hunter special (five runs, all earned) in 6.1 innings. He allowed nine hits and a walk while only striking out two. He took the loss, dropping his record to 7-8.
While all of this was going on, Tillman was pitching one of the games of his career. He rebounded from that long first inning to retire nine Red Sox in a row, and he would only allow two more baserunners as he pitched into, and through, the seventh inning. He came out for the seventh having already thrown a hundred pitches, and he responded by striking out Nava again - tying his career high in strikeouts, with eight, all swinging - and getting a couple of easy outs.
Tillman finished having thrown 115 pitches in seven innings, allowing only two hits, with three walks and the eight strikeouts. He threw 72 strikes and 43 balls, earning the win and raising his record to 13-3. He is the first 13-game winner for the O's since Erik Bedard won 13 games in 2007. That is a depressing statistic. The stat gurus at ESPN note that this is the first time an Orioles pitcher has been 10 games over .500 since Mike Mussina in 1999. He's thrown 18.1 innings in three starts against Boston this year and allowed only two runs.
Hunter pitched a scoreless eighth and Jim Johnson got some work with a scoreless ninth, sending Boston down in order after allowing a leadoff single to David Ortiz.
Hardy added a last insurance run with a home run, his 18th of the year, off of Boston reliever Jose De La Torre.
The win combined with a Tampa Bay thrashing of the Yankees knocks the Red Sox out of the division lead for the night. The Orioles are the only AL East team that Boston does not have a winning record against this year. They've won 15 of the last 20 games against the Red Sox.
Saturday night's contest will see the O's with a chance to gain ground on the now-second-place Red Sox. Scott Feldman takes the mound for the Orioles, with Ryan Dempster getting the start for Boston in the 7:05 game.