Chris Tillman has struggled for much of the 2015 season, but coming into tonight's game he had won five straight decisions and pitched a pair of absolute gems in his last two starts. Lately it's been looking like the Orioles' best starter of 2014 is back, and tonight Tillman did nothing to change that narrative. He was magnificent, coming one out short of a complete game and leading the Orioles to a sweep of the Braves.
Tillman's opponent was Mike Foltynewicz, making his tenth start of the season for Atlanta. He pitched a quick first inning but the O's threatened to stage a two-out rally in the bottom of the second - a Matt Wieters ground rule double and a Nolan Reimold walk brought Ryan Flaherty to the plate with two on. Flaherty popped out to end the inning, but Folynewich wasn't as lucky with his next pitch. Jonathan Schoop led off the bottom of the third with a towering home run into the O's bullpen on the first pitch he saw. An inning later, J.J. Hardy roped a 2-2 pitch into left field that barely cleared the wall, doubling the Baltimore lead to 2-0.
The Birds had a chance to add to that lead in the fifth but a possible big inning was short-circuited by the dreaded TOOTBLAN. Schoop led off with a walk and Manny Machado followed him with a single to right field, but a nice throw by Eury Perez nailed Schoop trying to go 1st-to-3rd. They always say you should never make the first or last out at third base. I've always just thought you should never make any out at third base. Either way this one wasn't good, and the O's were unable to extend their lead.
The two solo shots ended up being the only runs the Orioles would get. Foltynewicz cobbled together a pretty good 6-inning start, and David Aarsdma pitched the final two innings for Atlanta. Aardsma is notable for two reasons: 1) I had no idea he's still pitching in the majors, and 2) He's the very first player listed in the Baseball Almanac after being rude enough to take that spot from the great Henry Aaron in 2004. Don't ask me why I knew that. Aardsma pitched very well and didn't allow a baserunner, but it didn't matter.
Tillman was dominant the entire game. He allowed two baserunners in the first four innings, one via error, and both were immediately erased by double play balls. The Braves had back-to-back one-out singles by A.J. Pierzynski and Andrelton Simmons in the fifth, but Tillman worked out of that inning with no damage and didn't allow another baserunner until the ninth. Sitting on less than 100 pitches with an out to go, Tillman allowed a single to Cameron Maybin, which brought Freddie Freeman to the plate. This forced Buck's hand, and Zach Britton came on to record the final out.
It was a bummer, but it was absolutely the right call. Lefties are hitting .100 off of Britton this year, and Atlanta had a dangerous lefty at the plate representing the tying run. Britton did what Britton does - he threw Freeman five straight sinkers, and the fifth was grounded harmlessly to J.J. to end the ballgame.
Coming short of a complete game shouldn't take anything away from Tillman's performance. Tillman had only 2 K's, but he also induced only 3 outs to the outfield. The entire game he simply let batters put the ball on the ground, and the defense made the plays behind him. In his last three starts Tillman has thrown 23.2 innings and allowed seven hits, four walks, and one earned run. That's probably as good of a three-game stretch as we've seen this year from any starter not named Max Scherzer or Zack Greinke.
This was also a big win for yours truly, as I'm no longer winless as a recapper. That means I finally get to make a Most Birdland Player poll. This one should be a tough decision.