The Orioles offense may go through slumps, as all teams do, but you can’t keep them down forever. After sleepwalking through the first three games against the Yankees, after deploying B and C team lineups due to sickness in the clubhouse and injuries to key players, the O’s bats finally got going, at least a little bit, on Thursday afternoon, beating the Yankees, 4-1.
Although the O’s did have Manny Machado and Chris Davis back from battling the mystery illness, they were still without Matt Wieters and Adam Jones due to assorted injuries. Fortunately, their best starting pitcher, Chris Tillman, was on the mound.
Tillman pitched well for seven innings, the Orioles offense got a few clutch hits, then the All-Star duo of Brad Brach and Zach Britton took over to close things out. That might not be how they drew it up back in March, but it’s about as good as a game can go for the O’s as things stand right now.
Scoring in the first inning can be done
The Orioles scored not only one, but two runs in the first inning. Yes, it can be done! Not that they got any help in getting these runs across from today’s leadoff hitter, Nolan Reimold, who’s batting .224 since the beginning of May. It still wasn’t the A-list lineup even with Machado and Davis back.
There are plenty of other good hitters to go around, like the best friend tandem of Machado and Jonathan Schoop. It was Schoop who got the first inning rally started with a single, moving up to third when his buddy added another single.
With how this road trip had gone to date, getting a runner in scoring position was, in a facetious yet totally real way, putting the Orioles right where Yankees starter, and birthday boy, CC Sabathia wanted them to be.
The ice cold Mark Trumbo popped out for the second out. Trumbo hasn’t driven in a run since the All-Star break. But Sabathia walked Davis to load the bases for J.J. Hardy, and Hardy delivered a hard smash that Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius couldn’t handle.
Two runs scored when the ball caromed into shallow left field and the Orioles had their first clutch hit of the decade. The preceding sentence has not been fact-checked.
Staked to this 2-0 lead, Tillman proceeded to walk the first batter he saw in the bottom half of the inning. A base hit put two men on base with none out. Here we go again. But no, actually, Tillman induced a double play ground ball from the Night’s King, Carlos Beltran, defusing the worst of the tension.
The second inning saw another spot of trouble for Tillman after Gregorius led off with a double. That run eventually scored on a Starlin Castro single, cutting the Orioles lead to 2-1. Another double play snuffed out that possible rally.
Pitchers entering a groove
That was only the second inning and as it worked out, the Yankees did not get another runner in scoring position for the remainder of the game. Tillman entered cruise control mode. Four of the next five innings, the Yankees went 1-2-3 against Tillman.
It’s absolutely what the team needs from their best starting pitcher in order to break a losing streak at four games. The term "stopper" is one often thrown around hopefully rather than reflecting reality, but that’s what Tillman was today. They needed it.
Sabathia got into a groove, too, after allowing the two runs in the first inning. He retired 18 out of the next 20 Orioles he faced after the Hardy single. That took him all the way into the seventh inning where, with the bottom of the Orioles lineup coming up, he seemed set to keep cruising.
That’s not how it worked out. Caleb Joseph, of all people, started off a rally with a single. Joseph has hardly hit a lick lately but he had two hits in this game, despite it being a day game after a night game. Joseph caught both! So that actually can be done. Crazy.
Anyway, newly-minted Oriole Julio Borbon got another base hit behind Joseph, getting another actual rally going for the top of the lineup. Reimold struck out. Don’t worry though, because here’s Schoop to save the day! Schoop delivered a clutch double for two crucial insurance runs, putting the Orioles up 4-1.
With Tillman rocking and rolling, that was more than enough. Tillman went on to finish the seventh. His line for the day was beautiful: One run on four hits and two walks, with seven strikeouts, in seven innings.
Tillman threw 102 pitches on the day and earned a well-deserved 14th win on the season. Hopes remain for the first O’s 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984. Tillman’s got time. He’s probably got 11-12 starts remaining and six more wins to get. Oh, and his ERA is now 3.18, good for eighth best among AL starters.
Brach and Britton ended the game with little drama, combining for only one man reaching base in the two innings they pitched. The combined ERA for this tandem is now 1.52. That is also good. Britton remains perfect on save opportunities this season: 30 out of 30.
The latest road trip from hell is over with. The Orioles return to Baltimore to kick off a three game series against a fellow contending team, the Indians.
They’ve really wasted an opportunity in this series. The Red Sox, who’ve now passed the O’s, were playing a fellow first place team in the Giants and still managed to gain ground. Boston now gets to play the pathetic Twins while the O’s face a first place team.
Nothing they can do about it now except for come home, get well, and get back to winning games. In an interesting twist, the 7:05 series opener will feature two starting pitchers picked back-to-back in the 2011 draft: #3 and #4 overall picks Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy.