Orioles fans are no strangers to meaningless September games. Through all the losing seasons, they never mattered. What difference does it make if they win 65 games or 66? It turns out you get that same feeling when the Orioles clinch the division with two weeks left in the season. What does it matter if the O's win their 93rd game on a Saturday night when they've already got things sewn up?
Turns out that it matters when it's the Red Sox, because it's always fun to beat the last place Red Sox. That's exactly what the O's did on Saturday night, notching their 93rd win - tying the seemingly-unobtainable regular season win total from 2012 with eight games still to play. They took down a convincing 7-2 win.
The game ended up being noteworthy for the O's for a few different reasons. Starting pitcher Chris Tillman went seven innings, taking him over 200 innings for the second straight season. The Orioles hit three home runs in the game, raising their record to 25-0 when they hit three or more home runs. The first of the home runs gave the team 200+ for the third straight season. There might be a power outage across baseball, but it hasn't hit Baltimore yet.
Though the game ended strongly in favor of the O's, things did not start out that way. Tillman continued his unfortunate pattern of struggling in the game's first inning. He walked Sox leadoff man Mookie Betts on four straight pitches, then after retiring Xander Bogaerts, Tillman surrendered a home run to the vandal David Ortiz. The home run, Ortiz's 35th of the season, went out just to the left of the bullpens, putting the Orioles in an early 2-0 hole.
For Tillman, that now makes 21 earned runs in the first inning of 33 games he's started this year. That's a 5.73 ERA. That sucks. He didn't look like he would make it four innings - then he ended up pitching seven. That's how Tillman rolls. It takes him some time to warm up, but once he does, you're probably done for the night. The Red Sox met that fate on Saturday.
Over his seven innings, Tillman gave up only five hits and two walks while striking out six. He allowed just the two earned runs, continuing his streak of games started while allowing three runs or fewer - he's now done that in 20 straight. That's tied for the second-longest such streak in club history. After the first inning, Tillman only allowed two hits. That'll do.
It took until the third inning to arrive, but when it did, the Orioles offense was fearsome, as it tends to be. After squandering a bases loaded, one out opportunity in the second, they came back in the third inning with a vengeance. Delmon Young hit a one out single to put himself on base for Adam Jones, who might have been a little tired of Ortiz stealing the show this weekend. He crushed an inferior offering from Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa into the right center field seats, tying the O's game at 2-2.
The very next inning, the O's took the lead for good, and they did it in style. De La Rosa made another mistake, the result of which being that rookie Christian Walker crushed a pitch rows back into the deepest part of the stadium. The question with Walker is that he would have the power for the majors. Powering a ball to deep center for your first major league homer is a good way to show that he does. That gave the O's a 3-2 lead.
Though they'd need no more runs, they still got some more, also in style - just a different kind of style. Ryan Flaherty followed Walker's home run with a double. He advanced on a groundout, bringing up Jonathan Schoop with a man on third. On the first pitch that Schoop saw, Flaherty broke for home. A suicide squeeze! Schoop laid down a textbook bunt - something he hasn't always done this year - and Flaherty raced safely home for the Orioles' fourth run.
The Sox changed pitchers in the fifth inning, bringing in Heath Hembree. It made no difference. Hembree gave up a leadoff single to Young, then made a mistake pitch to Jones. That pitch landed in the left field seats for his 27th home run of the season. With four RBI on the night, Jones now has 94 on the year.
Young, Jones, Walker, and Flaherty all had multi-hit nights for the O's. Alejandro De Aza extended a hitting streak to five games with his lone hit. The team got their seven runs on 11 hits. Sounds good to me.
Tillman was credited with the win to raise his season record to 13-5. De La Rosa took the loss, falling to 4-8. The Sox starter did not distinguish himself, throwing a petulant inside fastball at the knees of De Aza after the suicide squeeze.
Brad Brach and Tommy Hunter followed Tillman by tossing a scoreless inning each.
The win is the O's 50th home win of the season. They're 51-22 since the All-Star Break, which is tops in MLB. Their division lead, not that it matters any more, is 14 games over the Yankees. They still have a chance to pass the Angels for best record in the AL, although the Angels led Texas big early in their game out west. The O's are seven games ahead of the Tigers for the #2 seed in the AL with eight games to play.
The Orioles and the Red Sox will be back in action for a 1:35 scheduled start on Sunday afternoon. It's the last regular season home game at Camden Yards, but, as things stand right now, there will be at least two home playoff games - hopefully more. Joe Kelly and Miguel Gonzalez are the listed starting pitchers.