MILWAUKEE -- Catcher Nick Hundley isn’t some nervous rookie with nubs for fingernails and a stomach that does somersaults when there’s a pressure situation before him.
Hundley, 30, has been in the major leagues for parts of seven seasons, though he had only played for the San Diego Padres until Monday, when he started behind the plate for the Orioles in their thrilling 7-6 comeback victory in 10 innings over the Milwaukee Brewers.
With a wry smile after the game, Hundley admitted that in the first inning he had a flash of that rookie angst when he crouched and began receiving pitches from Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman.
“My first at-bat and first inning catching felt like it was the first game I ever played,” said Hundley, whom the Orioles acquired Saturday in a trade with the Padres for left-handed reliever Troy Patton. “It felt like my debut. It was awesome to feel that. And then get rid of it.”
Hundley got rid of it all right.
That sensation was replaced in the bottom of the ninth inning with dread, with the sense that he had just cost his new teammates a game with a wild throw to first base on an attempted sacrifice bunt that put runners at second and third bases with one out.
All the Brewers needed was a base hit — even a sacrifice fly — by former Orioles infielder Mark Reynolds and that would be it. The game would be over, and Hundley would be the goat two days after he was acquired to be a stabilizing veteran influence.
But Orioles reliever Darren O’Day forced Reynolds to hit a liner to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who immediately threw to third base to double up pinch-runner Elian Herrera. It sent the game into extra innings, where the Orioles now are 5-1 this year.
“Roller coaster a little bit in the end,” Hundley said. “Obviously, you’d be talking to me for a different reason if Darren and J.J. didn’t pick me up there.”
Anyone who has ever used the phrase, “baseball gods,” knows this story doesn’t end here. Hundley had to get a chance at redemption. That’s how it always goes in baseball and Disney movies.
And so that moment came for Hundley and the Orioles (26-23).
Brewers reliever Rob Wooten (1-2) recorded two outs in the 10th before Hardy, the former Brewers infielder who hadn’t been back to Miller Park since being traded away in 2009, doubled to left field.
Hundley came to the plate hitless in four at-bats Monday. He hadn’t hit the ball out of the infield yet.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter looked on from the visitors’ dugout. He wasn’t worried, not about a guy who had been playing so long in the majors.
“People at different levels of competition down below [in the minors], look at it as, ‘Oh gosh, not only did I make an error, but I didn’t drive in the run.’ He looks at it like, ‘the baseball gods are shining on me to give me an opportunity,’ ” Showalter said. “That’s what separates everybody at this level. They’re very confident, and they want to be in that situation.”
On the second pitch from Wooten, an 83-mph slider, Hundley punched it into left field for his first Orioles hit, first Orioles RBI and first successful shot at redemption with his new team.
“I was excited for the opportunity to make up for it. That’s all you can ask for is one more chance,” Hundley said. “Physical errors hopefully don’t happen, and it did in the ninth in a crucial situation. Obviously, that’s a big spot to throw a ball away.”
There were other crucial moments, of course, in a game that lasted 3 hours and 42 minutes and was played before a soldout announced crowd of 42,889.
Rookie Jonathan Schoop had his first multihomer game — taking starter Kyle Lohse deep in the seventh and then bringing the Orioles within one run in the ninth on a solo shot against former Orioles right-hander Francisco Rodriguez.
“[The homers] felt good, especially to put us on the board, for us to score, and for us to make a comeback,” said Schoop, who now has five homers on the season, but hadn’t hit one since May 7. “I feel really good.”
Rodriguez, the major leagues’ saves leader, had blown just one opportunity in his previous 18 chances this year. He recorded the first two outs before Schoop’s homer. Then after pinch-hitter Delmon Young singled, Nick Markakis followed with a game-tying double to left-center field.
To rally enough to even the game seemed improbable considering the rough outing turned in by Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who gave up six runs, seven hits and four walks in 52/3 innings.
After throwing a complete-game gem in Kansas City on May 16, Tillman has submitted two consecutive six-run clunkers — a one-inning disaster in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then his Memorial Day beating at Miller Park.
“He was fortunate to get out of a lot of things. It’s something he and we are going to have to get corrected, or it’s going to be a problem,” Showalter said. “It’s frustrating because we see what he’s capable of.”
It’s the first time in Tillman’s career that he has allowed six runs or more in consecutive starts.
And the 12 earned runs in two games surpass his previous high in consecutive outings; he gave up 11 total on July 19 and Sept. 5, 2010. That was back when he was trying to find his way as a major leaguer and was shuttling back and forth from the minor leagues. Now, the 2013 All-Star is considered to be the Orioles’ ace.
Tillman, whose ERA has jumped from 3.34 to 4.69 in two starts, said he is simply missing his spots with his fastball and breaking pitches. He said he’s healthy and that he feels good in bullpen sessions. He just hasn’t carried it over in his past two games.
“It’s close, it’s really close, but you got to be able to make adjustments,” Tillman said. “I wasn’t able to do that today. It’s kind of been like that the last couple starts. It’s right there. It’s tough. But it’s close.”
Tillman avoided the loss thanks to four relievers who combined for 41/3 scoreless innings. O’Day (2-0) picked up the win, and Zach Britton allowed a hit and a walk, but no runs in the 10th for his third save in three chances.
This was not the day for Tillman’s redemption, however.
That was reserved for Hundley, the newest Orioles player, who now has one error, one single and one satisfying game-winner on his Baltimore resume.
“That was a good way to finish it. [Hundley] said something about that in the training room a minute ago, that he had to make up for his error,” Hardy said after the game. “And he sure did.”