On the first anniversary of the Orioles' memorable Game 162 walk-off win over the Boston Red Sox, it was evident how much these teams have gone in opposite directions.
In some ways, that night a year ago marked a rebirth of baseball in Baltimore as the Orioles played the role of spoiler, doing their part in Boston's historic collapse.
To most inside the Orioles clubhouse, that day is history. They still respect what that night meant, but these Orioles are in a much different place this September. And on Friday night, the O's opened their three game series with the Red Sox certain to not allow Boston to play spoiler.
Right-hander Chris Tillman, who was bypassed for the Orioles' September roster last season, led them past the Red Sox on Friday night, holding Boston to one hit over eight innings in a 9-1 victory before an announced 33,518.
“He's had some good outings,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He's one win away from winning 10 games, but we hopefully have bigger fish to fry. He keeps putting himself in a position to be worthy of getting the ball. I don't think he takes anything for granted.”
The Orioles (90-67) can clinch their first playoff berth in 15 years if they win three of their remaining five regular-season games. By winning their ninth game in their last 12 on Friday, they kept pace with the division-leading Yankees, who beat Toronto 11-4. The O's also remained in the top American League wild-card position.
Friday's game marked the second time this season the Orioles held an opponent to just one hit — Jason Hammel tossed a complete-game one-hitter June 16 in Atlanta — and it was the first time the Red Sox were one-hit in a full game since April 30, 2009 at Tampa Bay.
Ryan Flaherty hit his first career grand slam as part of a career-best five-RBI night as the Orioles jumped on the Red Sox and starter Aaron Cook with six runs in the first inning.
That was plenty of support for Tillman (9-2), who won his fourth straight decision, holding a Red Sox lineup that included just two players who started last year's Game 162 to just one unearned run. Scott Podsednik led off the game with a bunt single to second and later scored on a sacrifice fly.
Tillman retired 14 straight batters at one point and 17 of 18 to end his night, mixing in all four of his pitches efficiently.
“Once we hit the middle innings, it was every pitch,” Tillman said. “I felt pretty good with all my stuff, and I was confident in the fact that we were able to get ahead and I was able to throw strikes.”
Over his last five starts, Tillman has pitched to a 1.55 ERA, and he's thrown quality starts in five of his last six outings. The one non-quality start came Sept. 2, when he left a start at Yankee Stadium after three innings with right elbow discomfort.
His outing Friday marked the latest chapter in a remarkable season for the 24-year-old. He was among the final cuts in spring training and spent the first three months of the season at Triple-A Norfolk. But since arriving in Baltimore, Tillman has arguably been the Orioles' top starter, shedding the questions about his consistency.
“This is Chris Tillman really being himself,” pitching coach Rick Adair said. “He's probably the best self-evaulator we have. He may be one of the toughest guys we have. And he's honest. He knows what it's all about. I tell him all the time, he cracks me up because he's one of these guys. He's so brutally honest with his side work and how he goes about his business. You just love the guy.”
Tillman's job was made easy by the resurgent Orioles offense. Since being shut out on Tuesday night, the Orioles have scored 21 runs and hit nine homers in the past two games.
The Orioles battered Cook, who last just 11 batters. Three hitters into the game, Chris Davis slugged his 29th homer of the season, a two-run shot to right-center field.
“We had some good feelings this time last year,” said Davis, who is hitting .423 over a seven-game hit streak. “We've seen the 162 going on all day. We really started that last year, carrying that momentum from spring training into this whole season, and now we're going to try to keep it going.”
Flaherty, starting back-to-back games for the first time in more than a month, then launched a 2-1 pitch from Cook into the right-center field seats to give the Orioles a 6-1 lead. The homer was also the Orioles' 122nd at Camden Yards, setting a new franchise record for home runs at home in a season.
Flaherty, a Maine native who grew up a Red Sox fan, added a run-scoring double that capped a two-out rally in the Orioles' three-run fifth inning.
“Growing up up there, it's cool my friends can watch it on their network and stuff,” Flaherty said. “So it makes it even better to beat them, for sure.”
The Orioles' runs in the fifth snapped a string of 18 consecutive runs scored by home run.
Mark Reynolds' two-out double was followed by a blooper by Manny Machado that fell in front of Podsednik in center, scoring Reynolds and putting Machado on second. Flaherty then doubled to score Machado, and No. 9 hitter Taylor Teagarden drove in Flaherty to put the Orioles up 9-1.
Podsednik led off the game by perfectly pushing a bunt to the right of the mound past Tillman. Flaherty's errant throw to first gave Podsednik second base, and he scored two batters later on Dustin Pedroia's sac fly to center.
But the Red Sox were shut down by Tillman for the rest of the night, until Troy Patton came in and threw a scoreless ninth.