KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman isn't going to show a lot of emotion and he's never going to crow about a personal achievement. That's just not the style of the easygoing Southern Californian.
But after he fell two outs short of his first nine-inning complete game in Detroit last month, Tillman was visibly irritated that he couldn't close the deal.
That frustration seemingly melted away Friday night in the Orioles' 4-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals before an announced 25,985 who that braved another chilly evening at Kauffman Stadium.
It was the first nine-inning complete game — he previously had an eight-inning complete game in a loss — and first shutout of Tillman's career. He nearly cracked a smile afterward.
“My personal goal is to get deep in the game every game,” said Tillman, who allowed five hits and one walk while striking out three. “I don't think about [complete games]. But it is awesome. I'll take more of them. But, at the same time, that's not my goal.”
Tillman, who never before had gone beyond 8 1/3 innings, became the 78th pitcher in modern Orioles history to throw a complete-game shutout and the first since Scott Feldman last September. Tillman, 26, is now 52 shutouts behind Jim Palmer on the Orioles' all-time list.
“Three or four times a year, Chris is going to have one of these games where he has command of the curveball and the changeup and the fastball, and he broke out a little cut-slider to give them a different wrinkle toward the end,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He had a great angle tonight. You could see it early on.”
His masterpiece allowed the first-place Orioles to improve to 22-18 and secure at least a tie in the four-game series here. The Royals (20-21) again fell under .500, after getting above that mark Wednesday.
Tillman (4-2) set the tone early, throwing just 12 pitches in a scoreless first inning after struggling in the opening frame of his previous three starts this month. He threw 32 pitches in the first inning of his last start.
“It was real important,” catcher Steve Clevenger said of the quick first. “Any time you can go out there and throw 12 pitches in any inning, you give your team some momentum coming in and get some confidence out on the mound. Today proved it. I think he got some confidence after the first inning and went the whole distance.”
Tillman cruised throughout, putting multiple runners on base just once and never allowing a Royal to reach third. It was completely different from the only other time he had pitched in Kansas City, back in May 2011, when he was still struggling to become a major league pitcher. He gave up eight earned runs in just 32/3 innings.
Tillman also had been going through a rough stretch recently. He had just one quality start in his past five games before Friday night.
“It's been frustrating. I tell you, it was getting to me a little bit,” Tillman said. “I knew the adjustments I had to make. I just wasn't able to make them. It's good to see the results.”
Former Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie, who entered the night with a 4.80 ERA, retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Then he ran into self-induced trouble in the fourth.
Manny Machado led off with a bunt single that Guthrie fielded. The right-hander threw the ball away, allowing Machado to advance to second. He moved to third on a wild pitch by Guthie, then scored when Nelson Cruz hit a high “Baltimore chop” past first base.
Chris Davis, who had walked, moved to third on Cruz's hit and scored when Steve Clevenger narrowly beat out a potential inning-ending double play.
“It was a big momentum swing. It gave us a second run in the ballgame, gave us a little cushion and let Tilly do some work,” Clevenger said. “Every night, I try to hustle and do what I can do. And when you hit a ground ball, you should hustle.”
The Orioles scored their third run against Guthrie on a sacrifice fly by Cruz in the sixth. Cruz, signed as a free agent this winter, now has 37 RBIs this year, second in the American League, behind only Chicago White Sox rookie Jose Abreu.
Guthrie (2-3) lasted eight innings, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk. It was a huge improvement over his previous outing, in which he gave up a season-worst seven runs in just 42/3 innings to the Seattle Mariners.
Guthrie was on pace to pick up his fourth quality start in nine games until Chris Davis hit a solo homer to right in the eighth. It was Davis' third home run this season and first since April 23.
The Orioles, though, didn't really need the long ball Friday.
“You can't always count on the three-run home run, which we love so much,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “We have athleticism one through nine [in the batting order], and you see Clevenger get down that line and beat that ball out. That shows there is a hunger in there, and that's how our team is based.”
Tillman had been hungering for a quality start — and that elusive complete-game shutout — for a while now. And he delivered one of the best performances of his career.
“He holds himself to a higher standard and never gives in to, ‘Well, that wasn't that bad.' He never says that,” Showalter said. “He expects perfection and he takes very seriously the day he pitches. He is a professional at a young age.”