The Orioles took game one of their series against the Astros tonight thanks to a good performance by Chris Tillman, a bit of timely hitting, and some excellent defense. It wasn't the beat down that I think many of us were hoping for against the worst team in the American League, but every win counts the same in the standings.
Astros starter Lucas Harrell looked a lot better than I expected. He came into this game walking 5.2 batters per nine innings, but he didn't walk a single batter. The Orioles aren't known for taking many walks, so maybe that had something to do with it. He needed just seven pitches to get out of the first inning.
Tillman's first inning wasn't nearly as impressive. He gave up a single and a walk, but thanks in part to a double play he didn't allow any runs. He didn't seem to be hitting his spots in the inning, and he faced more troubles in the second inning. He hit the first batter, Carlos Pena, then allowed him to move to second on a wild pitch. He got the next two batters, but then Matt Dominguez hit a long fly ball to center field that looked like a RBI double. But Adam Jones ran it down to make a fantastic catch to end the inning.
The O's got on the board with two runs in the third inning. Danny Valencia hit a line drive that just barely cleared the wall in right field for a solo home run. Then, with two outs and Manny Machado on third base (he had doubled earlier), the Astros showed us some of that Astros magic. Adam Jones hit a ground ball to Chris Carter at first base. It should have been the third out, but Carter ole'd it and it went into right field. Machado came in to score to make it 2-0.
Starting in the third inning, Tillman got it together and looked a lot better. He struck out the side (all swinging) in the third, with his breaking pitches looking great. He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning and though he walked a batter in the fifth, a double play erased the mistake and he faced just three batters. Surprisingly, Harrell kept pace. He allowed just one base runner in innings four-seven, a single to Ryan Flaherty.
Tillman gave up the only run of the game in the sixth inning in the sixth inning when Brandon Barnes crushed a Tillman mistake pitch to left field for a solo home run. Jose Altuve followed that with a single and just as I started to wonder if Tillman had lost it, he finished the inning and then pitched a scoreless seventh to close out his night. His final pitching line was: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K. Not bad at all.
The Orioles added insurance runs late in the game, one each in the eighth and ninth innings. The pitcher who replaced Harrell, Wesley Wright, didn't pitch poorly. But he was completely victimized by Nate McLouth. McLouth singled, stole second, stole third, then scored when the catcher made a bad throw to third trying to catch him. It was the only base runner he allowed.
Tommy Hunter pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth but again was helped out by a great play from Adam Jones. You can be the judge, but it was maybe better than the catch he made in the second inning.
In the top of the ninth, J.J. Hardy doubled with two outs, his second hit of the game. He came in on an RBI single by Flaherty, who had himself a pretty good night. The run gave the O's a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth for Jim Johnson.
JJ looked shaky at first, missing his spots high. Jason Castro hit a bullet that Flaherty made a sweet play on to get the first out. Johnson immediately gave up a single to follow, but before I could think "here we go again," Johnson got his mojo back and struck out the next two batters to end the game.
All in all a satisfying victory by the Orioles, if not as dominant as I had hoped. The two teams play again tomorrow night with Freddy Garcia facing someone named Dallas Keuchel.