Sometimes in baseball, the most delightful, unexpected things occur. This was...not one of those times.
The end result was just as horrific as Orioles fans had anticipated, if not more so. Tillman faced 16 batters. Ten of them reached base. Six scored. Tillman failed the Matusz Test; his ERA at the end of the game (11.91) was worse than when he started.
Tillman’s first inning included a walk, a single, and a double before the Sox even got their biggest hit: an Eduardo Nunez three-run homer over the Green Monster. His second inning featured another walk and two more doubles.
Tillman’s third inning brought three more baserunners and zero outs. He loaded the bases on two singles and a hit batsman before his night came to a merciful end. Tillman’s line (two innings, seven hits, six runs, two walks, no strikeouts) might have been even worse if not for excellent relief work by Pedro Araujo, who stranded two of his three inherited runners.
The Red Sox, who led 6-1 after three, cruised to victory. The Orioles were in too deep a hole to mount a real threat, and were fairly quiet offensively beyond a two-run Manny Machado double in the seventh. It was a 7-3 final in a game all but decided in the first inning.
So, Chris Tillman. Let’s talk about this.
It’s never easy when a long-time Oriole, one who played an integral role on some very memorable and successful O’s teams, deteriorates before your very eyes.
And make no mistake, Tillman was a key part of those 2012-2016 Orioles clubs who finished a combined 78 games over .500 and made the playoffs three times. He may not have been a bona fide ace, but he was the closest thing the Orioles had to one.
He was durable: four straight seasons of 30 or more starts, including back-to-back years of 200-plus innings in 2013 and 2014. And he was effective: a 65-33 overall record and 3.81 ERA from 2012-2016, good for a 108 ERA+. He made three consecutive Opening Day starts , the first Orioles pitcher to do so since Mike Mussina.
Tillman was the perfect embodiment of the Orioles’ surprise success. When he was called up in July 2012 for his first big league start of that season, he’d had little prior success in the majors, amassing a 5.58 ERA in three partial seasons. The Orioles, too, were a team with no expectations, carrying a 14-year losing streak into 2012.
Out of nowhere, though, everything clicked into place. In that ‘12 debut, Tillman carried a shutout into the ninth inning in Seattle, leading the Orioles to victory. He never looked back — and neither did the Birds.
So, when Tillman’s Orioles career officially comes to an end, whether it’s tomorrow or some later date, that’s the Chris Tillman I’ll choose to remember. The guy who helped lead the O’s renaissance that finally brought some joy to long-suffering Baltimore fans. The guy who can make a legitimate case for election into the Orioles Hall of Fame.
I don’t want to remember this current version of Chris Tillman, whatever the heck this is. I don’t want to remember the guy whose fastball velocity has dipped below 90 mph this year, after already dipping nearly two full points from 2016 to 2017. I don’t want to remember the pitcher who has 12 swinging strikes out of his 247 pitches this year; the guy who has walked 10 batters and allowed 22 hits in 11.1 innings.
I won’t rant and rave about how the Orioles gave Tillman a guaranteed $3 million contract this season while he’s posted an 8.28 ERA and 1.99 WHIP since the start of 2017. Because, on some level, I understand why the Orioles weren’t ready to let go of Tillman. Why they desperately hoped there was still some bit of that old Tillman spark inside his worn-down right shoulder.
There wasn’t. There isn’t. That much seems clear. And if this is the end of the road for Tillman, it’s an unsightly finish to what was once a promising Orioles career.
But, hey...we’ll always have 2012-2016.