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J.J. Hardy’s home run, Chris Tillman’s great start give O’s 2-1 win over Rays

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The Orioles only had seven hits and none with RISP. Thanks to Chris Tillman’s great start, that was still enough to win.

The Orioles have the bonus of coming out of the All-Star break to face a bad baseball team in the Rays. Maybe an O’s win over the Rays, as on Saturday night, when they came away with a 2-1 victory, doesn’t tell much about the quality of the Orioles. Still, the other AL East teams will face the Rays just as many times as the Orioles, and even though the Rays are bad, the Orioles still don’t have to give the wins back.

You’re not going to find a much better formula for the Orioles winning a game than when they get seven innings out of their best starting pitcher, Chris Tillman, followed by two perfect innings from their All-Star bullpen duo, Brad Brach and Zach Britton. Even better, they carried a lead into those late innings thanks to an early J.J. Hardy home run.

The seven inning start alarm

You probably wouldn’t expect the Orioles to win very many games where they only get seven hits, and where their top three hitters in the order go hitless. Even worse, they only had two at-bats with runners in scoring position in the whole game, and they failed to capitalize on either chance.

Tillman, however, was very good. And maybe that’s only because it was the Rays, who are mired in a horrible stretch and have both the worst batting average in the AL and the fewest runs scored. You can only play who’s in front of you, though.

The Orioles did not give Tillman much of a cushion to work with, either. They only scored runs in one of the game’s nine innings - and that came together in unlikely fashion with two outs. Matt Wieters reached base with a single, the first O’s hit, before Hardy walloped a pitch deep into the seats in left field.

Hardy and power have not been concepts that have gone together much this year, but there was nothing cheap about this home run. The ball traveled about 400 feet. It was only Hardy’s fourth home run of the year, yet it’s his second of the last week. Is his power coming back around? That would be something.

Staked to that lead, Tillman did not surrender it. The Rays only had a couple of real chances against him and Tillman was able to preserve the slim advantage the whole time.

Things got a little hairy in the third inning, when catcher Luke Maile delivered a one out ground rule double. Tillman then walked the leadoff hitter, Logan Forsythe, before getting the next two batters to end the jam.

The next inning saw a bit more trouble. Logan Morrison led off the inning with a triple that was initially ruled a home run. The ball went deep into the left field corner and bounced off the yellow padding at the top of the wall and back into play.

O’s manager Buck Showalter challenged the home run ruling, which frankly only a blind umpire or one who didn’t know the ground rules could have made to begin with.

After the home run was turned into a triple on the replay, Showalter also argued that Morrison should have gone to second base because only the umpire signaling home run allowed Morrison to get to third base. The umpires did not agree. The ricochet definitely ate up Nolan Reimold in left field.

The very next batter, Stephen Souza Jr., singled to drive in Morrison and cut the Orioles lead to 2-1. Before this could turn into an actual ongoing rally, though, Souza made the poor decision to run on the Tillman/Matt Wieters combination and was thrown out by a mile for his foolishness.

The Rays did not get any runner into scoring position for the entire rest of the game from that point on. Tillman cleared seven innings having thrown 92 pitches, one run scoring on four hits and three walks. He might have been able to press on, but when you have an All-Star bullpen duo waiting in the wings, why mess around?

Not that pitcher wins matter, but in winning today’s game, Tillman has 13 wins for the season, leaving him still with some outside hope of pulling off a 20-win season.

The Windmill’s reign of terror continues

Rays starter Matt Moore actually out-lasted Tillman in the game, pitching into the eighth inning, and he gave up fewer baserunners than did Tillman. Too bad for him that one of those hits was a two run home run.

When the Rays bullpen finally got into the game, the Orioles tried to get another rally going. Mark Trumbo reached base with one out on an infield single as Evan Longoria’s throw pulled a runner off of first base.

With Trumbo on first, Chris Davis blasted a double into the left-center gap. Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson did what he does and flapped his arm madly to keep Trumbo running. If you were watching it live you probably shouted, "Nooooo!"

Trumbo was out by a healthy margin, and despite the MASN broadcast’s claim that "it took a perfect play" to get Trumbo, they were wrong - it wasn’t an especially good play. Don’t get Trumbo cut down at the plate. It’s a bad decision.

The Rays chose to take advantage of first base being open by intentionally walking Wieters to bring up Hardy. This looked like a good decision, as Hardy hit an easy grounder to Longoria, but Longoria inexplicably threw to second base instead of first. Wieters, running with two outs, was safe at second and Hardy beat the relay to first. How often are you going to see Wieters and Hardy beat out throws on the same play?

That set up a bases loaded situation, but Reimold grounded out and the rally was over.

Fortunately, the lack of an insurance run did not matter. Brach set down the Rays 1-2-3 in the eighth inning and Britton did the same to them in the ninth. They combined for three strikeouts and none of their six outs left the infield. Neither threw more than 13 pitches. Those guys are pretty good. Britton is now 29/29 in save opportunities this year.

Elsewhere, the Red Sox triumphed over the useless Yankees, so the O’s maintain a two game division lead. They gained a game on the Blue Jays, who lost in Oakland.

The O’s have already won the series against the Rays and will be looking for a sweep on Sunday afternoon. The bullpen will be good and rested for Dylan Bundy’s first MLB start, which is expected to be on the short side. Jake Odorizzi starts for the Rays in the 1:10 game.