The Orioles can go into the All-Star break with a smile on their collective faces. They used a seven-inning start from Chris Tillman and a pair of home runs to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 4-2 to take two games from the series and maintain their two-game lead in the division.
The first inning has time and time again been a difficult mountain for Orioles starter Chris Tillman to climb in his major league career. It proved to be tough once again on Sunday as he allowed a run to give the Birds an early deficit to overcome.
But he almost got out of it with no damage at all. It began with a one-out walk to Kole Calhoun. Mike Trout followed with a long double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Mark Trumbo collected the ball and fired to cut-off man Jonathan Schoop who made a perfect throw into Matt Wieters at home plate when Calhoun was tagged and called out. However, on review, the call was overturned to make it 1-0 bad guys. The O’s righty rebounded to get Albert Pujols on a lineout and Jefrey Marte on a groundout to J.J. Hardy to end the threat.
For the O’s offense, it was a slow beginning to the afternoon. There was no trouble making contact against Angels starter Tim Lincecum, but everything that was hit hard seemed to go right towards the opposition’s gloves. Trumbo even hit one so hard at Yunel Escobar at third base that it deflected off of him and to Andrelton Simmons and he STILL had enough time to get the slugger at first.
The bats come alive
Baltimore put together a healthy offensive day. When it was all said and done they had 12 hits as a unit, five walks and seven strikeouts. But all of their run production came from two bombs and a fluky play.
In the bottom of fourth, Trumbo led off with a single ahead of Chris Davis. Crush then put the O’s up with a DONG to left field, making it 2-1 Birds.
Two innings later, Pedro Alvarez popped up to shallow left field with two outs. There was some kind of miscommunication between the shortstop Simmons and the left fielder Ji-Man Choi. Simmons had the ball in his sights but then abruptly stopped as if Choi called him off. The only problem is Choi was nowhere near the action, so it fell in. Choi and Simmons then discussed it for a moment while Alvarez motored around first base towards second. Simmons then made a rushed throw towards second and it got past Gregorio Petit and then somehow made it past the first baseman Marte as well, allowing Alvarez to get to third.
Hardy then came up clutch with a single to center field to score Alvarez from third and extend the game into a 3-1 lead for the good guys.
Although Tillman had his first inning woes, he was pretty much un-hittable the rest of the way. He threw 106 pitches to get through seven innings. In that time he allowed just the one run on four hits while striking out five.
The most incredible thing about his start was that he limited the damage of the five walks he surrendered. Yes, Calhoun, who scored in the first, reach via the base on balls, but there were five more ball fours that did not come back to bite him. However, without them he may have been able to go another inning or even pitch a complete game. So, it is something that needs to be cleaned up.
It was another strong showing for the Orioles best pitcher. There will always be the discussion about whether he is an "ace" or not, but he sure does put together some quality outings for a team that doesn’t ask too much of their starters. To keep the conversation real short: who do you want starting a "win-or-go-home" game for the Orioles? It’s Tillman by a mile. Dude is a stud.
Brad Brach came in to relieve Tillman, and he did not seem quite as crisp as normal. Calhoun led off with a single to right field, but Trumbo had trouble with it. The ball bounced just in front of him and then snuck under his glove and went all the way to the wall, allowing Calhoun to reach third base.
Then Brach somehow struck out Trout on three pitches before Pujols managed to get a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Calhoun and make it 3-2. Brach would then get out of the inning without any further problems.
Hardy regained the O’s two run lead in the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run to left field. It is the shortstop’s first home run since April 12 at Fenway Park when he hit the only two other round-trippers he has had this season.
He rocked, we saluted
The Birds went into the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead, which of course meant it was time for Zach Britton to do his thing. He did allow a lead off single to Simmons but then got Geovany Soto to fly out and then both Petit and Johnny Giavotella to ground out to end things and give the home team another series win.
One negative we should note quickly is that Hyun Soo Kim exited the game in between the first and second inning after running out a ground out. He looks to have pulled a hamstring. He was replaced by Joey Rickard. If there is something good about this it is the timing. Kim now has five days to recover without missing game time. However we have seen with Darren O’Day how long it can take to get back from a hamstring problem.
Baltimore now goes into the All-Star break with a record of 51-36 and a two-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The O’s are also 33-14 at Camden Yards, the best home record in all of baseball. They have only lost one series at home (against Seattle). That’s pretty remarkable.
As it goes with the break, the Birds as a team are off until July 15 against the Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, you can still get your O’s fix until then. Bowie’s Chance Sisco will play in the Future’s Game tonight in San Diego. That is at 7 p.m. on MLB Network. Tomorrow, Mark Trumbo will be the number one seed in the MLB Home Run Derby. That starts at 8 p.m. on ESPN. And of course you can see Trumbo, Brach, Britton, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado in the All-Star Game itself on Tuesday, which begins at 8 p.m. on Fox.