Written by Mike Laws
Tillman spins two-hit gem as O’s power way to W
Boston 0, Orioles 6
Maybe my favorite sight this whole season was that of Chris Tillman returning to the mound for a seventh inning of work — this despite the fact he’d already tossed a hundred and five pitches in the Friday-night homestand-opener against the white prison gang from “Oz” I mean, the Red Sox.
But hey, why not? By that point the Oriole starter had retired sixteen of his previous eighteen hitters, going all the way back to the first, with only a two-out walk (in the fourth) and a two-out double (in the fifth) marring his ledger. His fastball velocity was actually on the rise. He’d already fanned seven Bostonians, and was missing more and more bats as the game wore on. Hey, Buck, no need to coddle the lad! … And Tillman would reward his manager’s decision, blaring through a ten-pitch seventh faster than you could say “Gilette Fusion ProGlide,” even managing to add another strikeout (of Oriole-killer Daniel Nava) to his total.
That Tillman rebounded from his shaky first inning to turn in such a masterful performance was maybe the best part of it all (though the twenty-two pitches he’d need to wriggle out of trouble in that frame no doubt precluded his going eight, or even delivering a complete game). Imagine for a second that you’d placed an early bet on Tillman going seven deep, shutting the Sox out on the strength of a paltry two base hits; say you’d placed this bet after the tall righty had opened the proceedings by flying both Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino out on four total pitches, but had then surrendered a single to Dustin Pedroia and issued a pair of walks (David Ortiz, Mike Napoli). What kind of odds would you have gotten?
Well, you’d probably be both rich and happy, in that case. Because Tillman managed to escape harm entirely, in that first frame, dusting himself off and blowing Nava right out of the water (fastball, quality curveball, ’nother fastball) to leave the bases loaded. And after that sequence, never again would a Red Sox runner reach third base, on the night. Tillman even managed to work around home-plate umpire Laz Diaz’s constrictive, comically undersized strike zone, in one case (in the fifth, following Ellsbury’s double) sneaking a pair of fastballs by Victorino over the lower third that, inexplicably, Diaz ruled either low or away, though it’s possible he’d fallen into some kind of narcoleptic mini-coma or was thinking about something else. Who knows? It was precisely the kind of extra-strike situation on which the Red Sox feast — but not here. Tillman gamely got Victorino to fly out to center, and kept the visitors off the board, still.
Of course, it’d be hard to accuse Diaz of being unfair — not when Red Sox starter John Lackey appeared to be going repeatedly apoplectic at perceived non-calls of strikes. (Then again, everything seems to make the Boston hurler angry. Botched plays, balls that slip through a hole in the infield, his own poor throws to first on little dribblers: All of these things occasion minor tantrums. The world, apparently, is out to get the right-hander. Either that or, more likely, dude is just a giant baby.) Anyway, Lackey wouldn’t find his way to his first inning’s third out quite as easily, as the Orioles mounted their own two-out rally: Nick Markakis sliced one of his trademark singles into short left to keep things alive, and then Adam Jones simply smashed an elevated outer-half fastball the other way, going with the pitch to right — where, though this reporter thought it was destined to rattle off the out-of-town scoreboard, the ball actually cleared it entirely. Home run! 2-0, O’s …
And, with Tillman now settling in nicely, they’d add another run in the third, when Nate McLouth tripled to deep right-center off the tip of the fingers of Ellsbury’s outstretched glove (Lackey tantrum alert!) and Manny Machado, having worked the count full, tagged a base hit back through the box, plating Nate. 3-0. The Orioles wouldn’t score in the fourth, either — odd-numbered innings are really more their style — but in the fifth it was Jones again, again with two out, again smacking a Lackey offering the opposite way, over the scoreboard in right and off the bars of that wrought-iron fencing or whatever it is up there that keeps the standing-room drunks from falling onto the field of play. 4-0, O’s. Machado added a dinger of his own in the seventh, this one a more standard-fare-type wallop into the seats in left on a belt-high fastball, which made it 5-0 and forced Lackey, finally, from the game. We can only presume that he threw his glove and kicked over a cooler full of Gatorade and took a bat to a tub of sunflower seeds, on his way down the tunnel.
By the time J.J. Hardy added a Devereauxesque two-out solo shot curled just inside the foul pole in left, in the eighth (hey! an even number!), it was all more or less academic anyway. Tillman had given way to Tommy Hunter, who’d worked a scoreless eighth (a one-out single, nothing else) and himself given way to Jim Johnson, whose first offering Ortiz whacked insolently into right-center for a single, but who required just five more pitches to polish this thing off: an 0-1 delivery that induced a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Napoli, and a three-pitch strikeout of Nava, which three pitches included at least one of those old Jim Johnson two-seamers with the kind of screwball-action movement that’s simply unfair, on a pitch in the mid-nineties (and which made it now three K’s, on the night, for the Boston left fielder). Good to see. Back in winning form, and against the hated rival Sox. Here’s hoping for more of the same tonight.
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