BALTIMORE - Tensions ran high right from the start of Monday's Orioles-Yankees game. Before even the second inning began, both teams had scored a run; accusations of stealing signs were made, and a pair of managers nearly went head-to-head.
But Baltimore starting pitcher Chris Tillman helped calm Orioles manager Buck Showalter, turning in a strong performance to help Baltimore pick up a 4-2 series-opening victory against New York.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi made things interesting from the get-go. Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson said as soon as he took his spot in the coach's box along the third-base line, Girardi was yelling, accusing him of stealing signs.
The 17,456 at Camden Yards were then treated to a show.
Girardi continued even after the inning was over. But Showalter wasn't going to take it. He stormed the field, wagging his finger at Girardi, as he had to be restrained by the umpiring crew while both dugouts cleared and players spilled onto the field.
"Somebody's wearing black and orange, I'm not going to let that happen," Showalter said. "I know Bobby Dickerson pretty well, and so I knew Bobby might have something to say on his way back to the dugout. And he did."
Dickerson said he doesn't have a history with the Yankees skipper.
"I'm just trying to do my job over there, and nobody's going to yell at me for nothing," Dickerson said. "That's all."
After the heated exchanges, Tillman's dominance began, and the Orioles (77-66) were able to piece together some runs. And that's where Showalter said he wants the attention to be.
"I'd rather have the focus be on Chris Tillman, some of the things we did on the field," Showalter said. "I know how drama usually plays this time of the year. I'm just glad we're playing games that mean this much to everybody, including our fans."
Tillman (16-5) gave up just two runs, a pair of solo homers to Alex Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay, on four hits, as he matched his career high with nine strikeouts and became the first Baltimore pitcher to win 16 games in a season since Mike Mussina in 1999.
Prior to this season, the Orioles right-hander had just 16 wins in four big-league seasons.
"He's been like that all year," Baltimore right fielder Nick Markakis said. "I think the biggest thing is he knows he has great stuff. We know he has great stuff. He's just throwing strikes now, throwing any pitch, any time in the count, and it's been effective."
After giving up a one-out single in the third, Tillman retired 14 straight New York batters, which included striking out the side in the seventh.
"Later in the game I had my offspeed pitches going. I used them when I needed," Tillman said. "I was able to get in sync and kind of felt my way through the first couple innings. I found it later in the game."
Markakis led the offense, going 3 for 4 with a double and an RBI single. All three hits came off Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who broke Markakis' hand with a pitch nearly one year to the day.
But Markakis said that didn't make the performance any more satisfying, just that the team was able to get the win.
"It's just another game no matter who it is on the mound," Markakis said. "It's a win in our book. It's a step in the direction that we want to go, and it was good for the team more than anything."
Sabathia (13-12) gave up four runs, three earned, on seven hits over 7 1-3 innings. It was the fourth straight start against the Orioles in which the left-hander gave up four runs or more, all this season.
Tommy Hunter struck out the side in the eighth, and Jim Johnson worked the ninth, picking up his 43rd save and sealing Baltimore's win.
With the win, the Orioles put some distance between themselves and the Yankees in the close race for the second AL Wild Card. Baltimore sits 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay, while New York (76-67) trails by three.
The tone may have also been set for the series with the interactions that ensued during and after the first inning. Markakis said he wasn't surprised, and his team will remain focused on its goal of reaching the playoffs for a second-straight year.
"You've got two teams battling for the same thing. It's just like any little thing's going to set it off," Markakis said. "You've got two competitive teams out there, and things are going to happen. But it was a big win tonight. It was on our side, so everything worked out good."