BALTIMORE – The tense game over, Buck Showalter had no interest is rehashing the argument he had with New York Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi.
Showalter wanted to talk about Chris Tillman instead.
Tillman had just pitched seven sterling innings, but the questions kept coming at Showalter.
“Guys, we had a great pitched game tonight. I understand you've got to ask the questions and everything. I'd rather have the focus be on Chris Tillman, some of the things we did on the field,” Showalter pleaded.
Tillman’s effort and Showalter’s sparring with Girardi over the accusations that Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson were the big storylines in the game won by the Orioles 4-2 before 17,456 at Oriole Park on Monday night.
It’s taken 14 years for an Oriole pitcher to win 16 games. After just one win in six tries, Tillman became the first Oriole to win that many since Mike Mussina won 18 in 1999.
With two runs on four hits, tying a career high with nine strikeouts without a walk, Tillman was most impressive. He retired 14 straight and pitched the Orioles (77-66) to within 1 ½ games of the idle Tampa Bay Rays in the chase for the final Wild Card spot. Cleveland beat Kansas City to stay tied with the Orioles.
New York (76-68) is now three games back of the Rays.
“We've got two good teams and we're competing for something very special with 19 or 20 games left and nobody's going to apologize here for caring about giving both of our teams the best chance to win," Showalter said.
Tillman (16-5) allowed two runs, both on home runs. Alex Rodriguez, batting second for the first time since Aug. 27, 2006, hit his fifth homer of the year to right field in the first, and after he retired the 14 straight, Lyle Overbay smacked his 15th to right in the eighth.
In the first game of a four-game series with the Yankees, the team that sent them home after the Division Series in 2012, Tillman said he tried to treat it as not out of the ordinary.
“They are all big this time of year. And I take the approach every game I’m pitching. You only get to go out there once every fifth day, so for me they are all big,” Tillman said.
The Orioles tied it in the bottom of the first against CC Sabathia. Nick Markakis led off with a ground-rule double. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Manny Machado and scored on a sacrifice fly by Adam Jones.
Then the Showalter-Girardi argument ensued, and when it was over, home plate umpire Ed Hickox warned Tillman not to throw at New York hitters.
“I didn't think it was going to start this early. You've got two teams battling for the same thing, it's just like any little thing's going to set it off,” Markakis said.
Tillman allowed two singles in the second and third, and then his streak began. When it was over, he left to the thanks from the crowd.
“We’re not done yet. We have a long way to go. I think it’s been a process and it’s been fun at the same time. Learn to make the adjustments. This has been a good time,” Tillman said.
Sabathia (13-12) allowed just one more hit until the fifth. J.J. Hardy led off with a double. As Michael Morse grounded to third, Hardy took off for third and made it. Hardy scored on Matt Wieters’ sacrifice fly to center.
Alexi Casilla singled, stole second and scored on Markakis’ RBI single, and the Orioles led 3-1.
Machado’s 49th double of the year scored Wieters in the seventh, and the Orioles led 4-1. Only Brian Roberts, who has 50 or more doubles three times and Miguel Tejada, who had 50 in 2005, have more in an Orioles season than Machado.
Wieters walked to lead off the inning. Casilla bounced to Sabathia, whose throw to second was wide. After Markakis hit into a double play, it was Machado’s turn.
Tommy Hunter relieved him and struck out all three batters he faced. Jim Johnson pitched the ninth for his 43rd save. With a runner on first, Curtis Granderson flied deep to center to end the game.
“I know how drama usually plays this time of the year. I'm just glad we're playing games that mean this much to everybody, including our fans," Showalter said.
NOTES: Miguel Gonzalez (9-7, 3.98) faces Ivan Nova (8-4, 3.02) on Tuesday. Gonzalez is 2-2 with a 3.50 ERA against the Yankees while Nova has thrown his only two complete games when facing the Orioles.
-Rodriguez’s homer was the 60th of his career against the Orioles. Only Harmon Killebrew (68) hit more against them.