There wasn't much hope in Birdland before tonight's game, what with Felix Hernandez on the mound for the Mariners, the O's bullpen depleted after last night's extra-inning marathon, and the unreliable Chris Tillman making the start. On paper this looked like it would be an absolute nightmare of a game for the Orioles, but, well, that's why they actually play the games.
Tillman did almost as much as you could have asked of him tonight. He pitched six innings and gave up just one run. Ideally, he would have pitched deeper into the game to save the already tired bullpen, but a few long innings early in the game just took it out of him. That's not to take anything away from him; Tillman really helped the team tonight, and he just happened to out pitch last year's Cy Young Award Winner.
Through the first two innings, Tillman allowed just one baserunner but still had to throw thirty-eight pitches to get through them. The third inning was especially tough for Tillman as he hit the first batter he faced, Brendan Ryan, then walked Michael Saunders on four pitches. After a visit from the pitching coach (Talk to me, Goose!) he induced a pop out by Ichiro Suzuki, but then Chone Figgins singled up the middle to score Ryan and give the Mariners a 1-0 lead. Tillman retired the next two but ended the inning with sixty-seven pitches, not a very encouraging total for the young man who needed to bail out the bullpen.
Tillman sailed through the fourth and fifth innings, needing just thirteen pitches in the fourth to retire the side in order, and only ten in the fifth. He got a little help from his battery mate in the fifth as Matt Wieters gunned down Ichiro trying to steal to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Felix Hernandez wasn't having such an easy go of things (what with the vaunted Orioles offense he was facing). In the fourth inning he allowed the first two batters to reach. First Adam Jones singled, then Wieters walked on four straight pitches. The O's couldn't score, though, as J.J. Hardy popped out and Robert Andino, playing third base tonight to give Mark Reynolds a rest, grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The O's finally broke through against Hernandez in the fifth inning, and all with two outs. Lee singled to get things going, then Hernandez, who struggled with his command all night, hit Vladimir Guerrero. With the old man contingent on the bases, Luke Scott lined a single to center field to bring home Silky D and move Vladdy to third. Then Adam Jones, who is totally locked in, smoked the first pitch he saw to the right-center gap. Both Vlad and Luke scored easily and Jones flew around the bases, sliding in ahead of the throw at third for his first triple of the season. The three-run fifth inning put the O's ahead 4-1 and knocked King Felix out of the game.
Tillman started the sixth inning with ninety pitches and got himself into some trouble for the first time since the third inning. He retired Figgins on a pop up to third to start the inning, but then walked Justin Smoak. Miguel Olivo flew out to Jones in center for the second out, then Jack Cust hit a ball the other way that Luke Scott misplayed into a double. Tough luck for Tillman, but thankfully the runner at first could only get to third base as it looked like Luke would make the catch. With runners on second and third, Tillman escaped the jam and ended his evening by striking out Adam Kennedy.
Major kudos to Tillman for his game tonight. He was in trouble early but turned himself around to give the O's a solid start. He was up against the best pitcher the Mariners (or most teams) have and he kept it together and gave the Orioles a chance to win.
David Pauley came on in relief of Felix Hernandez and pitched the final three innings of the game. He allowed three hits but no more runs, so the four that the O's put up would have to do it.
Jason Berken relieved Tillman in the seventh and was, as usual, shaky. After a fly ball to right that Pie caught on the warning track and a ground out to first, Michael Saunders launched a fastball to right field that Pie just turned to watch sail on the flag court. That cut the O's lead to two, and Berken followed it by giving up back-to-back singles to Ichiro and Figgins. It was looking like the O's bullpen would again waste a good game by a starting pitcher, but Berken induced a ground by Smoak that Roberts fielded for the final out of the inning.
Koji Uehara came in for the eighth inning and after striking out the first two batters, Kennedy singled to right field to keep the inning alive. Have I told you how happy I am that J.J Hardy is back in the lineup? I'm also happy that he's back on the field, because he made a fantastic diving catch of a line drive from Carlos Peguero to end the eighth inning.
At that point, all that stood between the Orioles and victory was their closer, Kevin Gregg. Gregg got the job done, but got a little bit of help from the umpire. Gregg and the first batter, Brendan Ryan, engaged in a fierce battle. The count went to 3-2 and on the eighth pitch, Ryan was called out on a pitch so far inside that it was absurd. The next batter, Saunders, was also called out on a ball. And the third batter of the inning, Ichiro, lined the first pitch he saw to Hardy at SS to end the game.
Sure, they had a little help from the umpires at the end, but the Orioles should feel good about this game (I know I do). They battled Felix Hernandez and took advantage of the fact that he wasn't at the top of his game. Hernadez faced 25 batters and threw 105 pitches, so the O's were working him for >4 pitches per plate appearance. Tomorrow the O's send Zach Britton to the mound against the soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas as the O's go for the sweep.