Those who watched Chris Tillman pitch last year and earlier this week against the Astros probably forecast an Orioles loss on Saturday afternoon without thinking too much about it. Indeed, the Orioles lost the game and it was not close, with a final score of 8-3. Watching it was still frustrating because of all of the ways it felt like things didn’t have to be this way.
One frustrating thing was the faith shown to Tillman as he pitched with the tank on empty in the sixth inning. In this, the Orioles did not have a choice in some ways, boxed in as they were by the need to rest their bullpen after Friday’s extra-inning affair. They had to stick with Tillman to achieve the goal of resting many of the relievers used last night. That was the price paid for the long game. At least they ended up winning the night before.
The end result, however, was that a game that was tied, 3-3, to start the bottom of the sixth inning, quickly became not-tied. Tillman walked the first batter he saw in the inning, Didi Gregorius, and after a Tyler Austin single, faced runners at the corners with none out. The lead was promptly lost as Miguel Andujar hit a fly ball deep enough to easily score Gregorius to give the Yankees the lead.
The pitch count climbed into the triple digits. Tillman unloaded non-competitive pitch after non-competitive pitch. Still he was left in the game, even after a near-wild pitch and an actual wild pitch, with every sign showing that there was nothing.
Finally, after a Bermuda Triangle blooper from Austin Romine that Chris Davis got a glove on but couldn’t catch, Tillman was pulled... not for a garbage time reliever but instead for Richard Bleier, who threw four pitches and got a double play to end the inning.
If Bleier was waiting behind Tillman, why didn’t we see him sooner? Buck Showalter is the best, but sometimes I really don’t understand why he does things the way he does. The decision in this case probably is connected to his telling reporters after the game that there were five relievers he did not want to use today.
With the team having an eight man bullpen for the game and three of the eight pitching in the game, it’s not hard to figure out who the five are. Every reliever who didn’t pitch was apparently unavailable. That seems to include Darren O’Day, who last pitched on Thursday, a 28-pitch, 1.1-inning outing.
The fifth run, in the end, did not matter. The Orioles never scored again despite a promising scoring chance in the seventh inning. They gave up more runs when an actual garbage time reliever, fresh callup Jimmy Yacabonis, labored through the seventh inning, showing little ability to get MLB batters out.
Check that last statement. The Pitch f/x charts show that Yacabonis in fact did strike out Brett Gardner, who drew a walk after that blown call and scored on an Aaron Judge double, and that Yacabonis also struck out Tyler Austin later in the inning, who instead hit a two-run single that really put the game out of reach. So perhaps it’s not all Yacabonis’s fault, but he gave up the runs nonetheless and may already be on his way back to Norfolk.
From the outset of the game, it never felt like it was even going to be a competitive one for the O’s. They were retired in order in the first two innings by Yankees starter Sonny Gray, making Gray throw just 11 pitches. They seemed like they were very interested in doing their part to make sure there wasn’t another 5:20 game today.
On the other hand, Tillman seemed like he was going to be playing with fire until he eventually got burned. This much was signaled from his very first pitch, an 87mph fastball, when Gardner, who hardly ever swings at the first pitch, ripped that meatball for a double. No runs scored this inning. It just felt like a matter of time.
That time turned out to be the second inning. After a single and a double early in the inning, Gardner drove in two runs on a single before getting himself tagged out on the bases, not paying attention as the O’s hit their cutoff man.
The Orioles answered quickly, putting together a rally with two outs in the top of the third that saw Manny Machado double in a pair of runs to tie the game. They even briefly took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning when Friday’s hero, Pedro Alvarez, said, “Shift this!” and doubled down the right field line to score Tim Beckham.
Troubles returned for Tillman in the fifth inning. With one out, he gave up a single to Ronald Torreyes and once again walked Gardner. This situation became more dangerous as Tillman let loose a wild pitch, allowing the runners to advance. Aaron Judge only needed to ground out to bring the then-tying run across, knotting the game at 3-3, where it could start to fall apart for the O’s an inning later.
The Orioles were probably supposed to lose this game and they lost. That’s a story of the game. The particular way they lost is still annoying, as losses will always tend to be for baseball fans.
The 2-5 batters in the lineup going a combined 1-15 will usually result in a loss, as will the team getting just six hits in total. For yet another game, they had fewer baserunners than innings. Another sign of a probable loss is a game where, going in, you know most of the good relievers aren’t going to pitch except in an emergency.
The Orioles had to push Tillman because behind him were Yacabonis and Nestor Cortes Jr. It may be that the original bad judgment was thinking Tillman is still capable of being an MLB starter, of course. I’m just talking about where things stood today, not why they got this way. The Orioles lost because they’re less able to bounce back from a game like last night’s, even when they are able to score three runs off of Gray in six innings.
The situation may not be a whole lot better for tomorrow afternoon with Mike Wright Jr. set to start a 1:05 contest opposite lefty Jordan Montgomery. The good news is that the Orioles have already guaranteed at least a series split, thanks to winning on Thursday and Friday. The bad news is that if they lose on Sunday, they’ll still be just 3-7 for the season.