When Chris Tillman was struggling in past years, when he was yo-yoing between Triple-A and the majors and perhaps falling out of favor with the organization's decision makers, the Orioles right-hander never made excuses, always putting the blame on himself.
So maybe the flip side should be expected.
That after Friday's 6-0 beating of the Boston Red Sox — one in which the Orioles hit four homers, including two by Adam Jones, and rode Tillman's seven shutout innings — the laid-back Californian notched his 13th win of the season and then deflected the credit.
“For the team, it's not just me,” said Tillman (13-3), who is the franchise's first 13-game winner since Erik Bedard in 2007. “It wouldn't happen if we weren't swinging the bats well and it wouldn't have happened if we weren't playing defense the way we are. So it goes to show where the team is now and where it was in the past.”
Need a reminder of how lean things have been in Baltimore? The last time the Orioles had a 13-game-winner in July was 10 years ago – Sidney Ponson in 2003, the season he was dealt at the trade deadline.
“There's two ways to look at it,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “What's it say about what (Tillman) is doing this year and what does it say about what's gone on the last 10 years?”
The focus right now — and certainly for the partisan announced crowd of 39,063 that jammed Camden Yards on Friday night — is what's been going on during the past two seasons between these two teams.
Once a punching bag for the Red Sox, the Orioles have won six of eight this season and are 30-20 against the Red Sox since Showalter took over as manager in August 2010. More incredibly, the Orioles have beaten Boston 20 of 27 times since Robert Andino's walk-off single eliminated the Red Sox from the playoff contention on the final night of the 2011 season.
“I don't know if there's any recipe for it. We just go after them,” said Jones, who had his third multi-homer game of his career on Friday. “I was telling Big Papi (David Ortiz) before the game, this isn't Fenway South anymore. This is Camden Yards. … He remembers — and who doesn't? — when this place was all Boston. Now our fans are back here supporting us.”
The third-place Orioles (58-46) snapped their three-game losing streak while also helping to knock the Red Sox (61-43) out of first in the American League East. They were leapfrogged by the Tampa Bay Rays (61-42), who beat the New York Yankees, 10-6, on Friday.
“We know there are so many teams in the division, you know the road to competing passes through them,” Showalter said. “That's a given with them.”
The Red Sox are quite aware of what the Orioles have been doing to them recently.
"We discussed before the game, ‘What can we do to change this against the Orioles? How can we stop them from having our number?'” Boston right fielder Shane Victorino said. “We just have to go out and be aggressive and change that. We have to do it by winning. Tillman pitched a great game. But we had a chance to change things in the first inning and we couldn't get it done.”
Tillman loaded the bases in a 22-pitch first, throwing just 11 strikes. He allowed a two-out single and then walked two consecutive batters before throwing a 92-mph fastball past Daniel Nava for a threat-snuffing strikeout. That started a string in which Tillman retired 19 of 21 hitters, including eight by strikeout, tying his season and career highs.
“I felt good. Physically, I felt good,” said Tillman, who joins Detroit's Max Scherzer and Tampa Bay's Matt Moore as the only pitchers in the majors with six or more wins at home and on the road this year. “I think I was able to execute some pitches early in the game, and I think that set it up for the rest of the way."
Jones gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first with his 21st homer of the season — a two-run shot over the right-field scoreboard on an elevated, 92-mph fastball from John Lackey. He then hit a solo shot to the right field flag court in the fifth against Lackey, whom he had struggled against (7-for-32 before Friday) previously in his career.
Lackey (7-8) had only allowed more than one homer in a game just three times in his first 17 starts — he gave up three in his 6 1/3 innings Friday.
The last batter he faced, third baseman Manny Machado, took Lackey deep in the seventh for his ninth homer of the season. Machado also had a RBI single in the third – making it six consecutive games in which he has had multiple hits against the Red Sox, tying an Orioles' record (set by five others) versus Boston.
J.J. Hardy added a solo homer in the eighth — his 18th — against reliever Jose De La Torre to round out the scoring. Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson pitched scoreless innings to preserve the club's fifth shutout this season and first since beating Boston, 2-0, on June 14.
The run support was plenty for Tillman, who is now 3-0 with a 0.68 ERA in his last four games against the Red Sox. In their last 13 games overall, Orioles starters have gone 9-3 with a 3.31 ERA and registered 11 quality starts.
“It's like the guy who says it's not necessarily about the money. It's about the money,” Showalter said. “Someone says it's not about the pitching. Trust me, it's about the pitching. If we stay in this and continue to compete, it will be because of pitching and people like Chris.”