Sometimes, low-scoring games are painted as pitchers duels even when they might be better termed as "bumbling offense duels." The Orioles and the Tigers on Friday night did not play one of these games - it was an actual pitcher's duel, and when the dust settled, the O's were on top, 1-0.
That's the second shutout of the year for the O's and the second 1-0 victory. Whether or not you expected the Orioles to be any good this year, I doubt that you were expecting them to have very many 1-0 wins. Thanks to seven strong innings from Chris Tillman, the typical bullpen dominance of Darren O'Day and Zach Britton, and the resurgence of the bat of Adam Jones, the O's pulled off the win.
The Tigers are definitely a team with some problems. You don't lose ten out of eleven games, as they have now done, unless things are going way, way wrong. Their offense is not one of their problems, however. So for Tillman to hold them to where they only got seven baserunners over seven innings - five hits and two walks - that's an impressive feat. He also struck out seven batters.
What made it seem all the more impressive is the way that Tillman rebounded after a bit of a tough first inning. While no runs crossed the plate, he did allow two hits in the inning and looked shaky - especially with one of the outs being a warning track fly ball that Mark Trumbo seemed to barely get a handle on.
Even with two men on base, Tillman never panicked and he escaped the jam. The second inning again saw two Tigers on base. Again Tillman danced his way out of it, extinguishing the rally and ending the inning by inducing a double play ball. Manny Machado to Jonathan Schoop to Chris Davis has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Sound the seven inning start alarm
Detroit didn't even get a runner in scoring position off of Tillman from then until the seventh inning, when Nick Castellanos led off with a double. This was the inning right after Jones got the Orioles on the board with his home run, and if you were expecting Tillman to give the run right back, well, it's not 2015 any more, and thank goodness for that. Two strikeouts and a fly ball later and the inning was over.
Tillman's seven inning start was the fifth such start the O's have had over their past ten games. Who would have even thought that was possible? Tillman's 2.58 ERA is good for 10th best in the American League.
Somehow, the Orioles had even fewer chances than the Tigers. That's not a huge surprise given that Tillman was dueling against Justin Verlander, though Verlander has struggled so far this year. The former Cy Young winner entered the game with an unseemly 5.40 ERA.
Verlander looked more like the Cy Young winner of old tonight. He tossed a complete game in a losing effort, and he only surrendered four hits over his eight innings. The Orioles had one measly at-bat with a runner in scoring position and they did not capitalize on that chance. Verlander struck out eight Orioles. That is not a game you would expect for the team to be winning.
And yet, win is what they did nonetheless, as Jones took a mighty cut at the first Verlander pitch he saw in the sixth inning of the game and bombed the ball into the Orioles bullpen, where O'Day made his traditional attempt to catch the ball. O'Day fumbled the catch, later saying on the post-game show that he "tried to get too fancy" going for a bare-handed catch.
This was not some poor Friday the 13th kind of omen. O'Day later pitched the eighth inning without incident. He did not run across any bad luck. There were no black cats in his way, nor did he break any mirrors, walk under any ladders, or, as far as I know, have any mysterious encounters with the seventh son of a seventh son under a full moon while drinking deep of the thrice-cursed chalice.
Seriously, what if Adam Jones is back?
For Jones, that home run was his fourth of the season, and even more importantly, his third in his past four games. I've asked it before and will ask it again: What if Adam Jones is back? Less than a week ago, Jones was batting .198.
With a two-hit effort tonight, Jones is now batting .248/.303/.389 - still bad, yes, but a .692 OPS is much better than the .551 OPS he had at the end of Saturday's doubleheader against the Athletics. He is finally moving in the right direction.
The win makes it a six game winning streak for the O's, who have also raised their record to ten games above .500 (22-12), a new high water mark for the season. Not bad for the team that was proclaimed by more than one analyst, including ESPN's Keith Law, to be the only team that had no chance to win the division.
It's only May 13 and there's a lot of baseball left to play, but you could hardly have hoped for the O's to start out any better than this. After 34 games last year, the Orioles were 15-19, five games out of first place in the division.
And by the way, the Red Sox finally scored fewer than ten runs and thus lost a game because their pitching staff is a stump dump fire. The enablers of the Vandal, David Ortiz, fell to the Astros, 7-6, putting the O's back in sole possession of first place in the American League East. Awesome.
The O's will try to equal their season-high winning streak on Saturday night as their series against the Tigers continues. Mike Wright and Anibal Sanchez are the scheduled starters for the game and they've both got 2016 ERAs north of 5.80, so don't be surprised if there's a slugfest.