Following Monday’s disastrous 12-0 loss at home, Baltimore stood at 34-35, losers of seven of their last 10 games as they tried to take game two of the series against Cleveland. The Orioles were tied for last place in the AL East with Toronto, but were only five games out of first, primarily because the Yankees had lost six in a row.
The Indians entered the game 37-31, winners of six in a row and leading the AL Central by 2.5 games over the surprising Minnesota Twins. Cleveland and Baltimore definitely seemed to be two teams heading in different directions.
The match-up featured two struggling pitchers – Chris Tillman (1-5, 8.07) and Josh Tomlin (4-8, 5.83). There was plenty of action in the early part of the game and the expected offensive outburst was delivered. By the time both starters hit the showers, before the fifth inning was over, there were four long balls (one really long ball) and ten runs scored. And the game was tied.
There was a vibe that this game just might be decided by what team bats last and whose pitchers are slightly not as bad as the other team’s pitchers. That’s not exactly what happened, but it wasn’t too far off.
Chris Tillman was bad
The initial highlight for Cleveland was DH Edwin Encarnacion, on a 3-1 pitch, taking Tillman deep to left in the first inning. And it was deep. A bomb for Camden Yards, landing in the second deck, above the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union sign. Balls aren’t hit up there very often.
Tillman looked uncomfortable the entire first inning (as well as the second, fourth and fifth, but more on those later). In addition to the Encarnacion blast, during the inning Tillman threw a wild pitch, hit the backstop and went to full counts on three different hitters. Buck Showalter looked sick watching the game. Through two, Tillman had thrown 49 pitches and based on his demeanor it seemed like another quick night was on the horizon.
However, since part of the beauty of baseball is its unpredictable nature – anyone remember the start by Ubaldo Jimenez last Sunday? – Tillman had a three up and three down third inning and appeared much more in control. Maybe there was hope.
In the fourth, aided by a 5-4-6 double play, Tillman gave up three singles and a walk, continued looking shaky and Cleveland got the lead back with two outs 3-2. From there, with two on, SS Francisco Lindor doubled to right, plating two more runs, and it was 5-2. The fourth inning mercifully ended after a great catch by Welington Castillo on a foul pop near the camera well at the front of Cleveland’s dugout. In a season loaded with injuries and possibly trending in the wrong direction after their strong start, Castillo is a very bright spot for the 2017 O’s.
3B Jose Ramirez led off the fifth inning with a single and that was it for Tillman. His final line – four plus innings, eight hits, five runs, three walks and no strikeouts. Not good. He was replaced by Alec Asher, recently sent back to the bullpen, after struggling mightily himself as a starter.
Tillman has not won since his May 7 debut, but he certainly isn’t alone with struggles. My colleague Mark Brown noted in a great piece earlier Tuesday that the O’s have the worst team ERA in MLB at 5.06, and the worst starting rotation ERA at 5.54. That combination can’t continue if the season is going to end well in Baltimore.
Josh Tomlin was bad too; Machado heats up
For their part, Baltimore greeted Tomlin with a home run by Manny Machado in the first inning, followed by a home run off Jonathan Schoop’s bat in the second. Both were to left field and there was little doubt where they were going off the bat, but each did stay in the lower level.
As several players and managers have noted in pre and post-game interviews, the ball has been flying out of Camden Yards since the Cardinals visit last weekend. The trend continued tonight. Every fly ball seems to go considerably further than usual since mid-June rolled around.
After his iffy start, Tomlin got through the third and fourth with little trouble and had a 5-2 lead. Two singles with one out in the fifth off the bats of Ruben Tejada and Seth Smith got the O’s back in action, bringing Manny Machado to the plate. Manny continued his recent hot ways with a home run – another long one and his second of the night – to left making it 5-5. Maybe, just maybe, after a rough 2.5 months to start the season, Machado is rolling for good. The team needs him to return to form, particularly with the injury to Chris Davis.
Tomlin left with two outs in the fifth and his line was familiar – 4.2 innings pitched, eight hits, five runs, five strikeouts and no walks. Three home runs (two by Machado and one by Schoop) and four RBI by Manny was his downfall. After five, both starters were gone, both had bad outings and it was a 12 out game for each team.
New game after five; O’s bullpen and Machado, Jones deliver
In the seventh, Cleveland loaded the bases with only one out and the O’s somehow got out of the inning. RHP Miguel Castro recorded the final two outs and showed off his dynamic young arm. Castro is 6’5, 190 pounds, and is only 22 years old, with an interesting and hopefully bright future.
In the bottom of the inning, Machado continued his perfect night hitting a ball off the right field wall – inches from his third home run – but instead it went for a double and he was 4-4. Before Manny could catch his breath, Jones followed with a sharp hit double down the line to right and the O’s had their first lead, 6-5. The effective pitching by Alec Asher, Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro, apparently woke-up the offense.
Bullpen gets it done (for one day anyway)
Mychal Givens came in for the eighth and sent the Indians down in order. In the ninth, it wasn’t easy, but Brad Brach recorded the save and Miguel Castro received his first big league win.
Through three batters, Brach had thrown 23 pitches and given up a walk to Edwin Encarnacion and a single to RF Lonnie Chisenhall. Two on, one out, one run lead for the O’s. Next, Carlos Santana hit into a force out and C Yan Gomes flew out to Joey Rickard (the ball carried further than normal toward the flag court in right) and “this one is in the win column!”
The Birds won the game 6-5 after being down 2-0 and 5-2.
No one knows what will happen with the rest of the season, the Orioles are 35-35, 24-12 at Camden Yards, but the win tonight epitomizes in a lot of ways the Showalter Era in Charm City. Somehow, someway, as bad as Tillman was, and with all the injuries, the bullpen and Manny led the way getting it done and the team came away with a win. There are worse places to be than .500 after 70 games.
Notes and Wednesday’s game
Adam Jones entered the game 10-18 in his career against Josh Tomlin. Jones was 1-3 on the night against him.
New SS, Ruben Tejada, singled in the fifth inning and played a very good defensive shortstop. He’ll be interesting to watch over the next 4-6 weeks while JJ Hardy is out with a broken bone in his hand.
Entering the game to replace Chris Tillman, Alec Asher had not faced any of the Cleveland hitters in his career.
Starting with the 2016 post-season, Indians starter Josh Tomlin and his dad, Jerry, have had a number of stories written about their relationship and the older Tomlin’s illness. This piece from MLB.com is worth a read and both chokes me up and brings a smile. I’m pulling for Jerry.
Wednesday at 7:05pm the O’s play Cleveland again at Camden Yards. Kevin Gausman (3-6, 6.60) is scheduled to face Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 3.21). Most importantly, it is also Dylan Bundy t-shirt night.
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Manny Machado and his big 4-4 night at the plate with 2 HR’s
Asher, Bleier, Castro, Givens and Brach for 5.0 scoreless innings