NEW YORK — One hitter away from being yanked in an embarrassing first inning, Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman took the sign from his battery mate on a 2-2 pitch. Matt Wieters called for a changeup. Tillman listened.
As the bullpen stretched in a hurry — worried, as reliever Troy Patton described it, as the Yankees stood 90 feet away from their sixth run of the inning — Tillman’s changeup worked. Ramiro Pena grounded out. Tillman had escaped, if you can call it that, with five runs allowed.
The Orioles stormed back with eleven unanswered runs, the Yankees didn’t score another, and the O’s earned a gutsy 11-5 win Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
“This was a battle from the get-go for me, and I can't give enough credit to Wieters there for keeping me in the game,” Tillman said. “I was kind of out there fighting stuff on the mound, just trying to get through.”
In a nightmare of a first inning, the Yankees paraded around the bases and batted around the order for five runs. Tillman surrendered three without even recording an out, and he only got out of the frame with the help of a base-running gaffe by Russell Martin.
At the time, the mistake by Martin, who was caught trying to reach second on the throw home after a RBI single, seemed almost merciful. But after a first inning that couldn’t have been much worse, Tillman couldn’t have been much better for the next four.
He gave up just two hits over that span, never working himself into any kind of trouble. Only one Yankee reached scoring position in Tillman’s final four innings.
Earlier, in the first inning, Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair paid Tillman a mound visit after he gave up hits to the Yankees’ first four batters. By that time, the Orioles already trailed, 3-0.
Tillman had been sent home early on Monday with flu-like symptoms and was on antibiotics. On Tuesday, he felt lethargic and weak, and lost velocity and command on his fastball early. When Adair spoke with Tillman during the first, he and Wieters encouraged Tillman to shift to favor his off-speed pitches and his cutter.
“You know coming out of the first inning he doesn’t have his Grade-A stuff,” Wieters said. “So you have to find some way to be able to get him deeper into the game. He did a great job of being able to throw off-speed stuff for strikes and mixing it in, which made up for not being able to locate his fastball.”
The change in pitch selection made the difference.
“Rick [Adair] just gave him a different wrinkle and a different toy to play with,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “And Matt [Wieters] getting him through those last four innings was pretty special to watch.”
Still, four more batters after the mound visit in the first inning, Tillman “was a hitter away” from being pulled, as Showalter described it, before the Pena ground out. Then the Orioles responded with seven runs of their own in the second inning, capped by designated hitter Chris Davis’ first career grand slam.
“[Scoring quickly] was big,” Wieters said. “I think after we scored the first two or three runs, you could see him in the dugout get back locked in.”
As the Orioles tacked a run in the third and fifth innings, and then two more in the eighth, Tillman and the bullpen cruised. Tillman said he didn’t change his approach on the mound, but he did acknowledge that he deviated from his normal pitch selection to compensate for the effects of the illness and his lack of fastball command.
Through it all, there was the steady presence of Wieters behind the plate.
“Without him back there tonight, I think it would have been a long night for me,” Tillman said. “Not that it wasn't, but I think him and the offense deserve a lot of the credit tonight, not me."