BOSTON – It’s been seven years since an Oriole won 15 games. It took Chris Tillman five tries to finally win 15, and it was a crucial spot.
The Orioles lost the first two games to the Boston Red Sox, and a sweep would have been disastrous.
Tillman pitched seven sturdy innings and the Orioles beat the Red Sox 3-2 before 33,300 at Fenway Park on Thursday night.
The Orioles (71-61) lost the first two games of the three-game series, and move on to Yankee Stadium for three more. They’re 3 ½ games behind Oakland for the second Wild Card spot.
“We’ve got 30 games left, and September is an eternity. A lot of people have been in the war. It’s a long season that starts here shortly. It will edge by, and that will be good for us if we’re trying to catch up,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Don’t sell us short.”
Tillman, who joined Rodrigo Lopez (2002, 2005) and Erik Bedard (2006) as the only Orioles pitchers to win 15 in this century, will be key if the team is going to make a last-ditch postseason effort. No Oriole has won more since Mike Mussina had 18 victories in 1999.
“It's good for the team. Hopefully get in a groove here and carry it over to New York," Tillman said.
Tillman allowed two runs on six hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“He’s solid. There’ve been a couple of games, he probably won this year that weren’t esthetically pleasing. He’s had some that we just weren’t able to finish up. He was just a rock, pitched well the whole game,” Showalter said.
Even though Showalter downplays the meaning of individual games, it was a game the Orioles badly wanted.
“We needed it. Boston was starting to stretch out a lead. Especially with them head to head, you lose a couple games and the lead gets stretched out a bit,” Matt Wieters said.
“We're going to need a lot of games in New York and moving forward. We just need to win games and have a good end of the year.”
Tommy Hunter, who lost Wednesday’s game on a flare base hit, allowed a leadoff single to Jacoby Ellsbury in the eighth. He stole second on a pitchout, his 50th of the season. Hunter struck out Shane Victorino, and Ellsbury moved to third on a fly to right by Dustin Pedroia.
Brian Matusz struck out David Ortiz, who’s now 1-for-19 with 11 strikeouts against the lefty. Ortiz is in an 0-for-22 slump.
“Those previous at bats don’t mean anything going into today. Obviously, Ortiz is one of the best hitters in the league. You’ve got to respect that. So I just want out there and attacked the zone. Went out there with no regrets,” Matusz said.
Daniel Nava led off the ninth by grounding to the first base side of the mound. Jim Johnson fielded it, but Chris Davis didn’t cover first in time, and Nava was safe. Jonny Gomes grounded into a double play.
Johnson ended it by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the game and save his 41st of the season, and the 15th win for Tillman.
“I enjoy working with Tillman, first off, and to see him improve -- to see him get to where I always knew he could get -- he has that kind of stuff. On top of that, he's one of the best teammates in the clubhouse, so it's good to see him succeed,” Wieters said.
The Red Sox (79-56) scored a run off Tillman (15-4) in the second. Nava led off with a double. With two outs, Stephen Drew singled to score Nava.
In the third, Danny Valencia led off with a double off Jon Lester (12-8). Brian Roberts grounded to second, and Valencia was tagged out at third. Nate McLouth walked after nearly leaving the game when he was hit by a pitch while swinging.
Manny Machado doubled to score Roberts and McLouth, and the Orioles led 2-1.
Adam Jones walked with two outs and scored on Davis’ double in the fifth. It was Davis’ 121st RBI.
Victorino hit his 12th home run of the year leading off the bottom of the sixth. It landed on the Green Monster seats in left, and was his third in the series.
Lester, who’s now 15-3 against the Orioles, worked six innings, allowing three runs on five hits. He walked three and struck out four.
NOTES: Miguel Gonzalez (8-6, 3.77) faces CC Sabathia (11-11, 4.81) on Friday night as the Orioles open a three-game series in New York.
-Machado now has 45 doubles, and he’s cracked the team’s top 10 list for most doubles in a season. Nick Markakis twice had 45 (2009, 2010). Brian Roberts had 45 in 2005.