By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun
12:01 AM EDT, April 23, 2013
The moment seemed perfectly scripted for Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis.
With Monday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays on the line on a chilly night at Camden Yards, the steadiest of the Orioles' bats resonated calm at the plate.
Down to his last strike, Markakis delivered the Orioles their second walk-off win in five games as his game-winning, two-out, bases-loaded single off Toronto reliever Aaron Loup gave the Orioles a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays and their fourth win in their past five games.
"Nicky is firing on all pistons," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He may not wear it on his sleeve, but there's a real fire in there. You don't do the things he does day in and day out and post up."
Markakis slapped an 0-2 pitch the opposite way down the left-field line for the game-winning hit -- taking advantage of a costly Toronto throwing error that extended the inning -- scoring Chris Davis from third base as the Orioles dugout cleared to mob Markakis at first base.
The Orioles (11-8) won in similar fashion on Thursday on Matt Wieters' 10th-inning walk-off grand slam.
"That's the beautiful thing about home-field advantage," Markakis said. "You get the last out of the ballgame and it came down to the last strike there. It was a tough battle the whole game. It was cold out. It was tough to get things going. ... That was a big win, the first one, especially against a team like that."
Markakis, who has hit safely in 16 of the Orioles' 19 games this season, has been at his best at home, hitting .439 (18-for-41) in 10 games at Camden Yards in 2013. So with the game on the line, Showalter had to like his odds with Markakis at the plate.
"He likes to compete," Showalter said. "Does someone like to be in that position? You talk about that all the time. It's just that you don't shrink from it. We don't look for things that test us in life necessarily, but the key is that he doesn't shrink from it. He goes, 'OK, Let's go.' "
Markakis' hit came right after Toronto shortstop Munenori Kawasaki's throw went into the dirt and away from first baseman Edwin Encarnacion on what would have been an inning-ending groundout by second baseman Alexi Casilla. Instead, it loaded the bases with two outs for Markakis.
"Once I got to two strikes, I was in battle mode then, just looking for a pitch anywhere around the zone. Don't try to overswing, just put the ball in play," Markakis said. "If it goes through the hole, it does. If I'm out, I'm out. I just wanted to give myself a chance to put the ball in play and it worked out."
Loup hit Davis with the first pitch of the ninth inning, and Davis moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from J.J. Hardy. Two batters later, the Blue Jays intentionally walked Nolan Reimold to pitch to Casilla.
The win allowed the Orioles to take advantage of right-hander Chris Tillman's best start of the season.
Tillman, who hadn't lasted more than 5 1/3 innings in any of his previous three starts this season, held the Blue Jays (8-12) scoreless for the first six innings and allowed just one run and four hits, striking out three and walking three, over a season-high 6 2/3 innings, tying for the longest start by an Orioles starter this season.
"Tillman was good, huh?" Showalter said. "That was an impressive outing. To have that kind of command of the curveball and off-speed pitches on a night where the feeling in your fingers [and] the ball's slick, that was pretty impressive. I'm proud of him. ... Tilly was the difference in that ballgame."
Coming off a start in which he threw 17 of 23 first-pitch balls, Tillman was aggressive against the Blue Jays on Monday, throwing first-pitch strikes to five of the first seven batters he faced and 15 of 26 on the night.
"I think the last game I didn't get ahead but six times, and I think it showed exactly what happens," Tillman said. "Another thing is getting the offense back in the dugout as fast as possible. If you leave them out there on the field, having long innings, it kind of puts the momentum on the other side. And you want to get it back in your dugout."
Tillman's solid start came hours after the Orioles optioned right-hander Jake Arrieta to Triple-A Norfolk, in part because he battled inconsistency through his first four starts of the season.
Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ was equally efficient in a no-decision. After Markakis' singled to lead off the bottom of the first inning, Happ didn't allow another hit until Casilla's two-out infield single in the fifth. He had six strikeouts through the first three innings and gave up one run in six innings overall.
In the sixth inning, the Orioles broke through against Happ. Davis' sacrifice fly to deep right ended the scoreless tie, scoring Manny Machado from third and giving Davis his team-high 22nd RBI of the season.
Despite not factoring in the decision, Tillman recorded his first quality start since Sept. 28, 2012, when he held the Boston Red Sox to one run over eight innings.
In the seventh inning, the Blue Jays tied the game with a two-out RBI single by Colby Rasmus through the hole on the right side of the infield, scoring Encarnacion from second.
That would be the final batter Tillman would face. Darren O'Day entered the game and walked Brett Lawrie to load the bases before striking out Emilio Bonifacio swinging on a full-count pitch.
Heading into the seventh, Tillman had allowed just one Toronto hit -- a second-inning single by Adam Lind. He had retired 12 of 14 Blue Jays batters and faced just one batter over the minimum in that span. He also issued three walks and was aided by two double plays.
"I think if you asked Chris, he probably didn't pitch the way he wanted to pitch the first couple of times," Markakis said. "But today he definitely made up for it, especially with a lineup like this. He attacked the zone, he was using all his pitches. I know he had a couple walks, but he kept us in the game, and that's all you can ask for from your starting pitching."
The Orioles had the go-ahead run in scoring position against Toronto reliever Steve Delabar in the eighth inning, but they couldn't score. Machado reached on a one-out walk and stole second, but Delabar struck out Jones and Wieters to end the inning.
The Orioles' bullpen was solid again, tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings, capped by Jim Johnson’s (1-1) perfect ninth inning in a tied game.
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