To a man, the Orioles felt that the key sequence in one of their more improbable victories of the season did not come in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Nolan Reimold was responsible for the first hit and baserunner against Brandon Morrow and Adam Jones gave the home team the lead with one swing.
Those were undoubtedly big moments, but neither would have likely mattered if young starter Chris Tillman hadn’t pulled himself out of a bases loaded and no-out jam allowing only one run in the top half of the inning.
Tillman held things together while matched up against a pitcher on top of his game, holding the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs over seven innings and being rewarded with his first big league victory in nearly three months in the Orioles’ 6-2 win in front of an announced 19,396 at rainy Camden Yards.
The Orioles (44-66) broke a three-game losing streak and put themselves in position to win their first series since taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds from June 24-26 with a victory in Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
“Tillman probably pitched the best I’ve ever seen him out there,” Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. “He kept us in the game. That was a real big inning, and a big turning point in that game. Bases loaded and nobody out, and what did he give up, one run on a sac fly? You can’t ask for much more out of that.”
The Orioles got plenty of other strong individual performances to back Tillman. Jones went 2-for-4 with four RBIs, and his go-ahead three-run homer onto the flag court in right field in the sixth gave him a career-high 20 homers on the season.
Reimold broke the ice against Morrow with a sharp single over the head of second baseman Aaron Hill to lead off the sixth, and then Robert Andino brought home the Orioles’ first run with a groundball that Yunel Escobar booted at shortstop.
In his fourth start of the season at first base, Mark Reynolds made a huge play to start a double play to help Tillman get out of the seventh inning, and he scooped up several low throws from Oriole infielders.
Relievers Jim Johnson and Kevin Gregg combined to retire all six hitters that they faced, but the prevailing topic in the Orioles clubhouse was Tillman, who surrendered four hits and a walk and struck out five in his first victory since May 11. The seven innings was also his longest big-league outing this season.
“I was real proud of Chris tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You think of all the challenges for a young pitcher. He’s had six days [since his last start], and the rain. … He carried a good fastball early on, and I thought the bases-loaded, no-outs situation was impressive, too, to get out of that where he was in the batting order and keep us in the game.”
A game that was delayed 1 hour and 11 minutes by rain took only 2 hours and 9 minutes to play, as Tillman and Morrow engaged in a pitching duel until the decisive sixth inning.
Backed by a mid-to-high 90s fastball and a sharp slider, Morrow retired the first 15 Orioles he faced on just 56 pitches, 44 of them strikes. While the Oriole hitters claimed they weren’t even thinking about the prospect of getting no-hit, or even falling victim to a perfect-game, the Blue Jays right-hander certainly had that kind of stuff.
Tillman, throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup for strikes, mostly matched Morrow for five innings, allowing only a Colby Rasmus solo homer – his first as a Blue Jay – in the second. But in the top of the sixth, things certainly appeared on the verge of falling apart, as they did in the middle innings of his last start in New York.
Jose Molina walked, Brett Lawrie singled, and then Tillman hit Yunel Escobar to load the bases with no outs. Tillman retired the slumping Eric Thames on a fly ball to shallow right for the first out. He then engaged in a long battle with the dangerous Jose Bautista, who had struck out on 94-mph fastballs in his first two at-bats.
Bautista lofted a flyball to medium center field that Jones caught and threw home to beat the plodding Molina. But catcher Matt Wieters couldn’t handle a tough hop, and Molina scored to give Toronto a 2-0 lead. Tillman then retired Adam Lind on a ground ball to end the sixth and keep his team within two runs.
“I knew I just had to keep making my pitches,” Tillman said. “I made them earlier on, and I knew I could keep doing it and let my defense do the work.”
The Blue Jays’ two-run lead looked insurmountable considering the way Morrow was pitching. But once he fell behind 3-1 to Reimold to start the bottom of the sixth, and then gave up the line-drive single, Morrow became somewhat unglued.
Blake Davis lined a single into right to put runners on the corners with one out. Andino’s ground ball that Escobar couldn’t handle made it a 2-1 game. Two batters later, Jones gave the Orioles the lead, smashing a 0-1 pitch and punctuating his homer with a fist pump as he rounded first base.
“The first five innings he shoved it right up our [butt],” Jones said of Morrow. “Then we started to see him more than once. It's the game of baseball. Pitchers are creatures of habit. He was dealing, but all good things come to an end. I rarely show emotion hitting home runs, but Tillman battled his tail off. It was a big home run for the team and for myself, but more importantly it was for Tillman.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times