Tillman twirls gem, O's magic number at three

Tillman twirls gem, O's magic number at three

Tillman twirls gem, O's magic number at three
BALTIMORE -- Chris Tillman watched the baseball season end from his couch in California last year as the Orioles decided against giving the right-hander, who had an up-and-down season split between Triple-A and the Majors, another promotion.

This year, the 24-year-old Tillman has done more than solidify a spot in an inconsistent Orioles rotation. Since his arrival July 4, Tillman has emerged as a dependable go-to guy, and the Orioles' best starter stepped up again Friday night and turned in his best outing of the season.

"This is Chris Tillman really being himself," pitching coach Rick Adair said after Tillman allowed just one hit and an unearned run over eight innings in the Orioles' 9-1 win over the Red Sox at Camden Yards.

"He's probably the best self-evaluator we have. He may be one of the toughest guys we have -- and he's honest. He knows what it's all about. I tell him all the time he cracks me up, because he's one of these guys. He's so brutally honest with his side work and how he goes about his business. You just love the guy."

Tillman's transformation mirrors that of the Orioles, who are a game behind the Yankees in the American League East and hold one of two AL Wild Card spots as the franchise is aiming for its first postseason berth in 15 years. Buoyed by Tillman's stellar start, Rule 5 Draft pick Ryan Flaherty delivered a career-high five RBIs to help Baltimore score nine unanswered runs and pick up win No. 90.

Last season, Tillman went 3-5 with a 5.52 ERA in 13 starts. This year, he's 9-2 with a 2.78 ERA in 14 starts.

"It's really impressive, especially knowing what's at stake," outfielder Chris Davis, who hit his third homer in two games, said of Tillman's performance. "When they get a run early like that, it's a lot easier to let your guard down than it is to go out there and compete. He competed and gave us a chance to really stay in the ballgame and really open it up for him."

Friday's win came on the anniversary of Baltimore ending Boston's playoff hopes last season with a walk-off win that prompted infielder Robert Andino to remark it was high time to send the Red Sox "home crying." A year later, the Orioles have a magic number of three to punch their postseason ticket and control of their own destiny.

"We are getting down to the nitty-gritty here," said Tillman, who singled out backup catcher Taylor Teagarden's effort in their first time working together this season. "I feel like I'm confident in my delivery, and when you have confidence in that, things will play out well for you. I just got to take it pitch-by-pitch and not get too worried about the next inning or the next game."

That next game for Tillman could very well be in the playoffs with the way the team's rotation shakes out and with Jason Hammel's status still unknown. But the Orioles, who have adopted manager Buck Showalter's singular focus, maintain that they're taking it game-by-game, day-by-day.

And what a day Friday was, with Baltimore improving to 71-0 when leading after seven innings, picking up its 15th win in the last 21 games vs. Boston. Tillman, who is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his last 12 starts, exited with the crowd of 33,518 at Camden Yards on its feet, an attendance that pushed the organization over the two million mark for the first time since 2007.

"We were behind his fastball most of the time," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Tillman, who retired 17 of the final 18 batters faced in his first career win over Boston. "We were out in front of his breaking ball. His curveball, he threw effectively. We didn't solve him."

The Orioles immediately answered the Red Sox's first-inning unearned run, with Flaherty following Davis' two-run homer with his first career grand slam. The blast, which came off Boston's Aaron Cook, capped a six-run first and was the 122nd homer hit by the O's at Camden Yards this season, setting a new franchise record.

Getting the start at second base, Flaherty also doubled in a run during a three-run fifth to become the latest unheralded Oriole to play the role of hero.

"You don't know when opportunities are going to come," said Flaherty, who had 14 RBIs in his previous 72 games.

Batting eighth, Flaherty came up big in blasting Cook's 2-1 pitch into the right-field seats for his sixth homer of the season. He had four RBIs in his previous 17 games. Manny Machado and Taylor Teagarden chipped in two-out RBI doubles in the fifth off reliever Alfredo Aceves as the O's pushed their run differential into positive territory for the first time since June 24.

"We really started that last year," Davis said of the club's turnaround this season. "Carrying that momentum from Spring Training into this whole season, and now we're going to try to keep it going."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.