BALTIMORE – Several thousand diehards remained. It was a cold night, definitely not one for hitters. There were just nine hits, all of them singles, and finally Nick Markakis delivered a most important one.
Markakis laced a single to left field with the bases loaded in the ninth, and the Orioles had their fourth win in five games, a 2-1 win before 11,168 hardy fans at Oriole Park on Monday night.
It was a night that might be remembered for the outstanding performance by Chris Tillman, whose first three starts this year weren’t terribly impressive.
This one was.
Tillman allowed just one hit in six innings, but allowed three singles in the seventh, and Markakis made sure his good work was at least somewhat rewarded.
“Tillman was good, huh? That was an impressive outing. To have that kind of command of the curveball and off-speed pitches on a night where the feeling in your fingers, ball's slick,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I'm proud of him."
He entered the game with a bloated 7.07 ERA, and while it’s still a too-high 5.23 ERA, this game where went 6 2/3, equaling the longest outing by an Oriole starter this year, went a long way to cementing the positive impression he made in the second half of 2012.
“He had all his pitches working. He had four pitches he could throw for strikes, and we really didn’t break out the cutter until late in the game, which is nice. When you can have his fourth pitch stay in the bag, so to speak, till the third time in the lineup, gives you a lot of weapons to use late in the game. He got a lot of first-pitch outs and was able to throw strikes early,” Matt Wieters said.
After Tillman was hooked with two outs in the seventh and the score tied, Darren O’Day worked out of the inning and through the eighth before Jim Johnson (1-1) pitched a perfect ninth.
Johnson has retired 14 straight batters and 17 of 18.
In the bottom of the ninth, Chris Davis was hit by a pitch from Aaron Loup (1-2). He moved to second on J.J. Hardy’s bunt. After Steve Pearce popped to second, Nolan Reimold was intentionally walked then Alexi Casilla grounded to short. Munenori Kawasaki’s throw to first bounced out of Edwin Encarnacion’s glove for an error to load the bases.
Then Markakis’ single gave the Orioles (11-8) the win.
“Once I got to two strikes, I was in battle mode then, just looking for a pitch anywhere around the zone, don’t try to overswing, just put the ball in play,” Markakis said.
Markakis was mobbed at first base, but after missing time last month in spring training with a neck injury, he quickly protected it.
“I just put my head down,” Markakis said.
While Markakis often shies away from attention, his value his apparent to Showalter.
“There's a real fire in there. You don't do the things he does day in and day out and post up,” Showalter said
“He likes to compete. You talk all the time about someone who likes to be in that situation. It's just that you don't shrink from it. We don't look for things that test us in life necessarily; it's just that he doesn't shrink from it. He says OK, let's go.”
In the first six innings, Tillman allowed just a second inning single to Adam Lind. He walked two.
The Orioles had only a Markakis leadoff single in the first off J.A. Happ In the second, Happ walked Hardy and hit Pearce, but the nothing came of it.
In the sixth, Manny Machado and Adam Jones led off with singles. Both moved up on Happ’s wild pitch. After Wieters grounded to short, Davis flied to right fielder Jose Bautista, and Machado beat the throw to the plate for the game’s first run.
Tillman struck out Bautista to start the seventh, but Encarnacion singled. After Lind struck out, J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus singled, and the game was tied by Toronto (8-12).
He allowed a run on four hits, walking three and striking out three.
“I was able to get ahead with my pitches early and my secondary stuff was there for me. I was able to pound the strike zone early and kind of make the pitches when I needed to,” Tillman said.
NOTES: The Orioles won for the first time this year without hitting a home run.
-Markakis is batting .439 (18-for-41) at Oriole Park.
-Jones has now reached base in 18 of 19 games. He’s hit in 17 of them.
-Miguel Gonzalez (1-1, 4.00) pitches against R.A. Dickey (2-2, 4.30) on Tuesday night.