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  • May
    02

    Chris Tillman: A Sweet Start - Orioles Win 5-to-1

    Written by Mike Laws

    A sweet start

    Timely offense, eight-inning effort from Tillman; O’s take game one in Anaheim

    Orioles 5, LAA 1

     

    Generally speaking, things are not going well for the Baltimore Orioles when an opponent’s starter delivers eight innings of quality baseball. That’s what the Los Angeles Angels got out of Joe Blanton, who certainly gave the home side a prime opportunity to pick up the win in Thursday night’s opener against the Birds in Anaheim. The seasoned righty took “crafty” to a whole new level, often working in reverse against Oriole hitters — “pitching backwards,” they call it — making good use of his changeup, which he’d deliver in just about any count and which accounted for roughly half his pitches. Even when the cracks appeared, Blanton was able to limit the damage, stranding a runner at third in the third, sixth and seventh innings to hold the O’s to a single run in each frame. Most nights, that’d add up to a good deal of frustration, for Baltimore batsmen and fans alike …

     

    … But not with Chris Tillman on the hill for the O’s …

     

    The bullet points!

     

    • What a difference a little D makes. To witness Tillman’s early work, you’d have thought there was no shot he’d get deep into this ballgame. True, he did deliver a first-pitch strike to every Angel he faced in his first inning of work; trouble was, two of them — Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo — wound up walking. Another, a fellow by the name of Albert Pujols, took Tillman deep to right-center, where Adam Jones, capping a long run, executed a fine leaping grab. Nice to see Jones shaking off the previous night’s less-than-stellar defensive performance, in Seattle, but still: Tillman wasn’t doing much to show he could quiet this powerhouse L.A. lineup. As much appeared to be confirmed when Josh Hamilton rocketed the first offering he saw into right, a play on which speed-demon Trout must’ve figured he’d score easily. But hey, Mike, don’t sleep on Nick M. Don’t ever sleep on Nick M. Markakis played the hot shot on a hop and came up firing, delivering a strike to Matt Wieters, who applied a nonchalant tag to a surprised Trout (who never even slid), and the Orioles were out of the jam … 

     

    • … after which Tillman showed some signs of settling down, in the second, though he still needed nineteen pitches to work around a Hank Conger single. That made forty-three for the night, and only two in the books. Uh-oh. Doubly worryingly, while the big righty appeared to have the good, live fastball working, he just couldn’t seem to throw either the curve or the changeup consistently for strikes …

     

    • So hey, maybe we should get this guy a lead and see if anything changes. With one away in the third Nolan Reimold ripped a single into left. Nate McLouth followed with a single into right. Manny Machado wasted no time in collecting his second single of the ballgame, another hard-hit stroke to left (on which we might’ve had another interesting play at home, but for L.A. left fielder J.B. Shuck’s bobble). Reimold scores. 1-0, Birds …

     

    • And here, indeed, is where Tillman settled in, requiring only twelve pitches to retire the Angels in order in their half of the third, including a one-pitch at-bat from Trout and a foul-out from Pujols after Tillman had fallen 3-and-0 to the ex-Cardinal masher. Hmmm …

     

    • If we were wondering which Tillman we’d see from that point on, we got our answer, tidily, by way of the next four innings. In each of the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh frames, Tillman needed exactly eleven pitches to mow down the Angel offense. Over that span — and on into and through the eighth — he permitted only one runner to reach base, yielding a single to Erick Aybar to lead off the sixth (subsequently allaying any O’s-fan fears by retiring the Trout-Pujols-Trumbo troika on two pitches apiece). Between the second and that sixth Tillman had retired eleven straight L.A. hitters. And in the eighth (the eighth!) Tillman, his pitch count now over a hundred, needed fifteen pitches — including a few called-strike breaking balls and a fastball still topping out at 95 — to, again, set the side down in order.

     

    • … By which point the Orioles had staked their starter to a slightly bigger margin. A ripped Davis double plated Jones, in the sixth. Another double — this one from Markakis, with two outs, just inside the bag at first and on down the line — scored Reimold. 3-0, O’s. Looks like we’ll be needing Jim Johnson, right?

     

    • Well, yes and no. With the closer warming in their half of the ninth, the Birds would tack on an additional two runs by virtue of an infield hit from Reimold and a McLouth home run (*). 5-0. Which made matters far more comfortable when Johnson, brought in despite the non-save situation the offense had ensured, allowed a one-out homer to Pujols. Oh, well, no shutout. Johnson, apparently in no mood for any more shenanigans, proceeded to ring up a very confused-looking Trumbo on a dropped-in slider, then fanned Hamilton to end this brief, two-and-a-half-hour affair. 5-1, is your final.

     

     

    THE ASTERISK: Here’s hoping Trout continues, for at least the rest of this particular series, to look like he did tonight. Which is to say, decidedly un-Trout-like. Last year’s super-rookie not only failed to reach base again, following his baserunning blunder in the first — and not only looked fairly pedestrian throughout his remaining at-bats, pounding a pair of routine 6-to-3s into the Angel Stadium dirt — he also actually assisted on McLouth’s home run, a smoked drive to deep center that Trout nonetheless appeared to have lined up; one thought, watching him bolting back toward the wall, that the Angel center fielder was going to turn in another of his quickly accreting collection of outstanding defensive plays (the arguable best of which came last year in right-center at Camden Yards). Instead the ball clicked off the top of the wall, ricocheted off Trout’s outstretched glove on a rebound, and rolled along the top of the wall for an instant before tumbling over and beyond. To put this another way: What was nearly a Mike Trout Moment became a kind of Jose Canseco/Brad Komminsk Special. Probably won’t see that again for a while …

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