Written by Mike Laws
O’s pad lead late, take opener with Astros
Orioles 4, Houston 1
If only every game could look like this: a starter who works deep into the night, seemingly improving with each of his seven innings; a defense that comes through when called upon to make big plays; the bats jumping out to an early lead, then padding it with aggressive base-running and clutch knocks down the stretch, offering a wide berth for the closer.
Hey, that really kinda telegraphed my bullet points, didn’t it? This thing practically writes itself!
- And where better to start than with Chris Tillman? The big righty certainly had the good stuff cooking tonight, mixing in that big 12-6 hook with increasing frequency throughout the contest — which is, of course, a nice second arrow in the ol’ quiver when you’ve also got a mid-nineties fastball you’re able to locate with the pinpoint accuracy of a Fredrick Zoller (multiple apologies here: muddled metaphors and esoteric references). Anyhoo, Tillman’s evening hadn’t looked so promising in the early going — he surrendered a single and issued a walk in the first inning, and began the second by plunking Carlos Peña — but after Tillman escaped any damage with a little help from his friends (a 6-4-3 twin killing in the first; a terrific catch in the second from Adam Jones, racing directly back onto the warning track in dead center to flag down a ball Matt Dominguez torched over his head and nearly all the way to that stupid hill in Minute Maid Park) … After which the Oriole hurler fairly cruised, retiring the side in order in the third and fourth and facing the minimum three batsmen in the fifth, too, thanks to another double play to erase a leadoff base-on-balls. And while Tillman would make his only Big Mistake in the following frame, delivering a finger-lickin’-good fastball middle-in to Brandon Barnes, which Barnes clobbered off the stone façade above the stands out in left, halving the lead to 2-1 — and though Tillman would concede a subsequent single to Jose Altuve (who are these guys, by the way?) — the Oriole starter settled right back down, fanning the fearsome Jason Castro to punctuate a tough at-bat, then inducing a groundball out off the bat of J.D. Martinez. Nicely done. Tillman did flirt with trouble again in the seventh, when Jimmy Paredes whacked a two-out single through the 3/4 hole and proceeded to swipe second, but rebounded to ring up his eighth and final Astro on the night, a swinging strikeout of Dominguez following another extended plate appearance, which made for a nice cherry on the top of Tillman’s evening — oh, right, and snuffed out another threat, too.
- That the Orioles provided a lead of any kind for Tillman to work with was a product of sheer opportunism, being as Houston starter Lucas Harrell (who really, really reminds me of someone I can’t quite put my finger on — is it Macklemore?) had himself a heck of a ballgame; you could even make a pretty convincing argument that Harrell outpitched Tillman: He retired the side in order in the first, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, and scattered three singles among the second and fourth. Ah, but the third — that was a different story. Danny Valencia led things off with a homer to right (on what was, truth be told, not much more than a well-hit opposite-field liner off a pretty good pitch up and away — just that Valencia’s shot sailed just over the wall in right). After Nate McLouth grounded out to short, Manny Machado ripped a double down the left-field line and into the corner — which looked like it’d go for naught after Nick Markakis flied out, but then Harrell spiked a breaking pitch to Jones, permitting an aggressive Machado to advance to third, and then Houston first baseman Chris Carter (not the “X-Files” creator, different guy) botched Jones’s routine bouncer something awful, allowing it under the glove and into right, meaning an unearned run to make it, for the time being, 2-love, until the Astro sixth made it 2-1 …
- But you know these Birds aren’t gonna settle for a one-run cushion. (And you know we fans aren’t gonna want to see Jim Johnson trying to preserve a one-run cushion.) Beginning in the eighth off lefty reliever Wesley Wright, the O’s, true to form, struck for a pair of insurance markers, with McLouth pretty much doing it himself in the penultimate frame, singling to center and stealing both second and third and scampering home when the throw down to third on the second steal tailed toward short and ticked off Dominguez’s glove and rolled limply into left. So that made it 3-1, with the Orioles’ second and third runs unearned. But — as if to prove they deserved the victory — the visitors came through again in the ninth, when Ryan Flaherty slashed a two-out RBI single back through the middle, plating J.J. Hardy (whose double inside third had likewise come with two away against Josh Fields). 4-1, now: plenty of margin for error for Johnson, who, thankfully, wouldn’t need it. The Oriole closer did require some more fine work with the leather, this time from Flaherty on a diving stab that wound up being out No. 1, and did allow a one-out single to Martinez, but found his form after that, fanning Peña and Carter (on a fastball up in the zone and a big hook well below it, respectively) to end the game and preserve the W.
AND JUST BECAUSE I COULDN’T FIND A PLACE FOR IT, ABOVE: Certainly should’ve mentioned Tommy Hunter’s fine eighth inning of work to hold the margin — then 3-1 — steady. And again, some of the credit here goes to Mr. Jones, who, with two out in the frame, pulled off what I’d call a carbon copy of his earlier running grab in deep dead center — except this catch was probably even a little tougher, the Altuve liner not just over his head but tailing toward left, such that the Oriole Gold Glover had to lunge, at the end of his run, while contorting himself up and onto his backhand, reeling the thing in at full extension (and somehow managing to stay upright/not wind up with a face full of mulch from that stupid knoll beyond the warning track). Somewhere, Al Bumbry is smiling.
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