CLEVELAND — Looking to rebound from an awful outing in which he didn’t get out of the first inning, Baltimore Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman took the mound at Progressive Field attempting to duplicate his tremendous season-debut performance in Seattle.
He wasn’t that dominating on Saturday, but Tillman was plenty good enough to stifle the Indians’ offense in a 3-1 Orioles victory, their fourth consecutive win. And he was plenty good enough to make last week’s disaster in Minnesota a memory.
And just when it looked like the Orioles’ patchwork rotation was coming apart, the group has suddenly strung together four consecutive quality starts for the first time since May 15-18.
The Orioles (50-44) are now 33-14 in games decided by two runs or fewer. This is the earliest they have won their 50th game of the season since 2005, when the club captured No. 50 on July 18. Last year, they didn’t win their 50th game until Aug. 24.
Things didn’t start too well for Tillman, who allowed a home run on his fourth pitch, to right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. It was Choo’s fifth leadoff homer and it was the first time in Tillman’s career that he had served one up to his first batter.
However, the Indians’ run continued a disturbing trend for Tillman, who has had trouble in the first inning for most of his career. In his 39 big league starts spanning 382 / 3 innings, he has allowed 35 earned runs in the first frame — an 8.15 ERA. That’s roughly two runs higher than his ERA in any other inning.
Last week, against the Minnesota Twins, he was hammered for seven runs (one earned) in the first and recorded just two outs before getting pulled. This one looked a lot more like his two-hit gem in Seattle on July 4 — his 2012 Orioles debut.
On Saturday, Tillman had just one perfect inning, the second, but he didn’t give up any runs after the first. He was taken out in the seventh, following a two-out single, his sixth hit allowed on the night.
Tillman (2-1) walked just one batter and struck out four while throwing 116 pitches. He was helped by some excellent defense, including strong plays by shortstop J.J. Hardy and left fielder Chris Davis
Left-hander Troy Patton entered in the seventh and retired the only batter he faced, Choo, on a groundout. Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson (29th save) threw scoreless innings.
After being shut out by Cleveland right-hander Zach McAllister through six, the Orioles took the lead in the seventh on a Hardy single and a Jim Thome homer to right. The laser was Thome’s 611th career homer, second as an Oriole and second in two games here.
The 41-year-old Thome, who has played roughly half of his career in Cleveland, now has 190 homers at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field). He doesn’t have 100 homers in any other ballpark.
McAllister (4-2) made just one other mistake, serving up a 430-foot blast to rookie Ryan Flaherty in the eighth. It was his second home run in two games and it was majestic — landing in the trees behind center field.
The 24-year-old McAllister, who retired 12 consecutive batters after allowing a Nick Markakis single to start the game, lasted a career-high 72 / 3 innings. He allowed just five hits and no walks and struck out six but was victimized by the home run.
And by a 24-year-old righty on the other side who threw strikes and escaped the first inning.