Chris Tillman battled through the early innings of his outing Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays. In his mind, he wasn't carrying his best stuff, so he huddled with catcher Matt Wieters between innings to figure out how to maneuver through a dangerous Toronto lineup.
The results were worthy of a win. Tillman held Toronto to two unearned runs and three hits over eight innings. But despite another spectacular start, Tillman was a tough-luck loser in the Orioles' 2-0 loss because of some rare fielding miscues behind him.
An Orioles team that committed the fewest errors (54) ever recorded in a 162-game season last year, entered Friday night with just one error nine games into this season. That total increased on Friday. The Blue Jays took advantage of an ugly fourth inning as the Orioles botched a pair of inning-ending double plays and rookie third baseman Jonathan Schoop committed two throwing errors.
“Through the years, when you look out on that column that says error, if you're … on the bad side of it, you usually don't like your chances,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “When you play at this level there's a fine margin of error. We just had two or three things we didn't execute and they really get magnified in a game that both pitchers are pitching that well.”
That was the difference as the Orioles (4-6) were shut out for the first time this season in front of an announced crowd of 22,327 at Camden Yards. The loss marked the first time since June 7, 2009 the Orioles lost a game in which they allowed three or fewer hits. Seven of the Orioles' first 10 games have been decided by two runs or less.
But Tillman gave the Orioles every opportunity to win on Friday and over three starts this season, he has not allowed more than one earned run in each of his three starts.
“I told him after the game, that was one of the best I've ever seen Tillman throw to be honest with you,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “Obviously they've got a good lineup, they've got some thump over there and he threw the ball tremendous. His first three starts going into the season have been really, really strong. That's why he's the ace on our staff right now.”
The 25-year-old Tillman has allowed one earned run in his last two starts spanning 16 1/3 innings. On the season, Tillman has pitched to a 0.84 ERA, allowing two earned runs on 15 hits over 211/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and three walks.
“It was a struggle early,” Tillman said. “I just couldn't get into a rhythm early on, was fighting myself to make the adjustments. Luckily we were able to make them a little later in the game and hats off to [Wieters] for hanging with me. … We were able to figure it out fortunately.”
From the dugout, Showalter saw that Tillman wasn't carrying his normal stuff, but in his graduation from prospect to ace, he saw Tillman get by and still pitch well.
“[That's] a real testament to him and [catcher] Matt [Wieters],” Showalter said. “When you can put three or four pitches in a hitter's head that you can throw for strikes, you can get by on some nights. That's a testament to a good pitcher. To give us a good chance to win without carrying what we've seen him carry."
The Orioles' starting rotation entered the night with a 6.06 ERA, the third highest in baseball, and that mark would be much higher if it wasn't for Tillman, who has accounted for two of the Orioles' three quality starts through the season's first 10 games.
With one out in the fateful fourth inning, Schoop made a nice back-handed play on Jose Bautista's sharp grounder to third, but sailed the throw over first baseman Chris Davis. Following a single by Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind hit a double-play ball to Schoop, but his throw to second went wild and into right field, allowing Bautista to score the game's first run.
“I just threw it away,” Schoop said. “I wish I played better defense for Tillman. He pitched a great game. … I wish I played better defense for him. Maybe things would've gone a different way for us, and on offense too.
“Learn from it and be better tomorrow,” Schoop said.
Toronto catcher Dioner Navarro then hit a likely double-play ball to Davis, who threw to second for the first out, but shortstop Ryan Flaherty's throw to first skipped past Tillman covering first base, allowing Encarnacion to score from third.
Ironically, that might have been one of Tillman's most well-pitched innings of the night. He struck out one batter and induced four groundballs. Tillman (1-1) ended his outing retiring 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced following Schoop's second error.
“It's baseball,” Tillman said of the fielding miscues. “It could have happened early on in the game when I was missing and we wouldn't even be talking about it. I trust these guys day in and day out and I think, like I said, it's baseball. Those things happen.”
Even though the Orioles outhit the Blue Jays, 5-3, they were unable to muster any offense against Toronto right-hander Dustin McGowan, who entered the night with a career 6.99 ERA, his highest against any American League team.
Camden Yards just held several deep fly balls off the Orioles' bats. Davis – who is homerless after 10 games this season after leading the majors with 53 homers in 2013 -- hit a pair of long fly balls to center field, one to the warning track and another just in front of the track, in his first two at-bats. And Jones crushed a ball to left field that died at the warning track his second at-bat.
“It's just how it is with this game,” Jones said. “There will be days when we bloop them and they all find a home, but tonight, nothing. Crickets out there, but hey, we swung the bats. I think we had great at bats all night. Guys had really good at bats the entire game. As you get deeper and deeper into their bullpen it gets nastier and nastier. You tip your cap. They pitched a good game.”
The Orioles had their best opportunity against McGowan in the fifth inning, recording three straight two-out singles off McGowan. The Toronto bullpen held the lead for McGowan, who allowed five hits over six innings. University of Maryland product Brett Cecil recorded three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings and closer Sergio Santos tossed a perfect ninth for the save.
"They pitched real well, too,” Showalter said “We had, what, one real good opportunity? But you better cash it in. Their bullpen through thick and thin has been pretty solid the last few years. If they've got a lead after the sixth or seventh inning, they're going to make it tough on you, which they did tonight."