Even after they plated seven runs in the top of the second inning in Sunday’s series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles knew they weren’t guaranteed victory, not against a perilous lineup batting with the Rogers Centre dome roof open on a warm afternoon.
“Just had one of those feelings that it was going to be a slugfest,” Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “The ball was flying.”
Having lost their first four games at the Rogers Centre this season — including the series opener Friday — the Orioles earned the series win here after orchestrating their second straight game-winning ninth-inning rally against the Jays, breaking open a tied game with four runs in the final frame to win, 13-9.
“These last two [games] here were big, just considering this team over there has been playing so good,” said Hardy of the Blue Jays, who had won 13 of 15 before the Orioles handed them back-to-back losses. “This was a big series for us. Two big games.”
The Orioles lost their seven-run lead — Opening Day starter Chris Tillman was shelled for six runs and didn’t make it out of the second inning in his shortest outing of the season — and trailed before Hardy’s game-tying two-out single in the seventh.
Hardy also provided the game-winning hit, a one-out RBI single up the middle off Blue Jays closer and University of Maryland product Brett Cecil.
The Orioles (36-33) head into a day off on Monday in Boston tied with the Blue Jays (37-34) for third place in the American League East, three games back of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays.
They received a break in the ninth. Hardy’s game-winning hit might have been an inning-ending double-play ball, but it skipped between shortstop Jose Reyes and second baseman Munenori Kawasaki and into centerfield, with each defender thinking the other had the ball.
“I got a little bit confused, that’s no excuse,” Reyes said. “That should be into the double play there and Cecil would be out of the inning. I saw Kawa was right there, that’s why we kind of … I had to continue to charge the ball and try to make a play, especially in that situation there.”
After Hardy’s hit broke the tie, second baseman Ryan Flaherty added a two-run triple off Cecil and two batters later, Manny Machado plated Flaherty on a two-out single off Ryan Tepera.
Tillman’s early exit — he faced just 10 batters — forced six relievers to account for 7 2/3 innings. The Orioles’ ninth-inning rally came after Darren O’Day (4-0) stranded two runners on base in the eighth to keep the game tied — he also stranded the bases loaded in the eighth in a tied game on Saturday — and closer Zach Britton overcame a one-out walk in the ninth to preserve the win.
Staked to an early 7-0 lead, Tillman lasted just 1 1/3 innings and allowed six runs on six hits.
“I left too many pitches over the plate, even in the first inning, got three quick outs but everything was center cut,” Tillman said. “I was never able to make the adjustment to make my pitch, instead I was leaving it right in the heart of the plate. ... I’m falling behind and even the guys I get ahead of, it’s right back in their favor almost immediately. I got to do a better job of keeping me on the offensive instead of defending against their swings.”
Three of Tillman’s four shortest outings of the season have come against the Blue Jays. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings on April 12 in the first home series of the season and went just 4 1/3 innings on April 23 in Toronto. Tillman had won his previous three outings going into Sunday.
“He’s got to get back into attack mode,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s been pitching a lot better until today. Of course, this is a very hitter-friendly day. He could get an extra day next time out. We’ll see.”
Tillman has been battered by the Blue Jays this season. He has a 15.00 ERA in four starts against Toronto this season and a 3.92 ERA in his other 10 starts.
“You always learn from every start, more so when you struggle than when you do good,” Tillman said. “Today was a big one. Definitely have to make an adjustment against these guys moving forward, they seem to see the ball well [off me].”
Tillman’s struggles came after the Orioles sent 12 batters to the plate and scored seven runs in the top of the second inning, chasing Toronto starter and former Orioles farmhand Scott Copeland from the game after just 1 1/3 innings.
Seven of the first eight batters in the second reached base and scored. The first six hits in the inning were singles, and hits by Travis Snider, Ryan Flaherty, David Lough and Manny Machado drove in runs.
Jimmy Paredes chased Copeland from the game by hitting an opposite-field, three-run home run that gave the Orioles a seemingly comfortable 7-0 lead.
But Tillman retired just four of the next 10 hitters. The second inning spun out of control after he allowed back-to-back homers to Ezequiel Carrera (a three-run shot), and Kevin Pillar.
Tillman was removed after allowing a single to No. 9 hitter Ryan Goins and a double to Jose Reyes. Two batters later, Tommy Hunter allowed a two-run single to Jose Bautista. Pillar tied the game in the third with a one-out RBI single off Hunter.
Bautista put the Blue Jays up, 9-7, with a two-run home run to center field off right-hander Brad Brach in the fourth, Bautista’s 14th homer of the season.
Chris Davis cut the lead to one with a solo shot to center in the fifth and Hardy’s two-out single to left in the seventh tied the game.
“They didn’t give up,” Hardy said. “Obviously they scored six runs after we scored seven. It was just big. They didn’t give up, we didn’t give up. It was one of those games where we’re just fighting to the end. … It turned out to be that way. You wouldn’t have thought so after we scored seven runs.”