DETROIT — Chris Tillman isn’t going to admit it, but his progression into staff ace took another step Sunday afternoon when he outdueled the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander and halted the Baltimore Orioles’ four-game losing streak.
“He’s definitely working his way up to that [ace] status,” Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. “When he came over here in a trade [in 2008], it’s night and day to where he was then to now. He’s learning how to pitch. He’s learning how to attack the zone. He’s got confidence on the mound. And when you got confidence and talent, it takes you a long way.”
Tillman was fantastic Sunday, allowing just a home run by Torii Hunter and four other hits over 81 / 3 innings in the Orioles’ 3-1 victory. Tying his career high for longest start, Tillman walked only one and struck out five — including Hunter on a reach-back, 94-mph fastball to end the eighth inning.
It was a Verlander-like effort against the Tigers’ ace, the 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP.
“A lot of people see Verlander falling on their day and give a ‘Woe is me,’ ” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “Tilly is just the opposite. He thinks that’s a chance for me to really be there when the team needs me against some pretty tough odds.”
The Orioles (2-4) sorely needed Tillman’s performance. They hadn’t won since opening day. They hadn’t had a quality start throughout the rotation’s first turn. They were about to be swept by the previously undefeated Tigers (4-1) before flying to New York for another challenging series.
“Any time you get a win is important, especially the way we started the series,” said Tillman, who picked up his first victory this season after winning 16 games in 2013.
The 25-year-old came close to a career milestone: His first nine-inning complete game. With Tillman having thrown 101 pitches through eight innings, Showalter decided to send him out for the ninth. He retired two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera on a groundout before giving up a double to Victor Martinez. Showalter then pulled Tillman, and closer Tommy Hunter picked up two quick outs for his second save in as many tries.
How badly did Tillman want the complete game?
“Badly,” he said, with a wry smile. “Let’s just say that.”
The only run Tillman allowed came in the fourth, when Torii Hunter broke up a perfect game with his third homer in three games. Tillman had retired the first 10 batters.
— Baltimore Sun