In his first start of the second half, Tillman was there — and then some — in a 3-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers that halted the Orioles' three-game losing streak and returned them to .500 (45-45).
However, Tillman, the club's two-time Opening Day starter, isn't proclaiming himself back just yet.
“Getting closer. That's one, I got a lot more to go,” said Tillman, who evened his record at 7-7 with his best performance of 2015: A season-high eight scoreless innings while allowing just one hit, one walk and striking out a season-best eight. “I've got to do it consistently to get back to where I was last year and the year before. I was happy with it, but we got to do it again.”
After allowing a leadoff single to Ian Kinsler on his first pitch of the game and then issuing a walk two batters later to Victor Martinez, Tillman completely shut down the Tigers offense, retiring the final 23 batters he faced.
“A little reminder, Chris was one of the best pitchers last year in the American League,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's one of the best offensive teams in the league, maybe in baseball. So that makes it doubly impressive.”
Bothered by erratic fastball command for much of the season, Tillman was hitting his spots Saturday with all of his pitches, mixing up a 93-mph fastball with his changeup and curve. Take away Kinsler's leadoff single and Tillman potentially could have captured his first no-hitter as a big leaguer. In 2010, he threw a nine-inning no-hitter for Triple-A Norfolk.
“I didn't really realize it,” Tillman said of the 23 straight outs. “When [Showalter] told me I was done, I glanced up and realized it then. During the course of the game, I'm just trying to focus on the next hitter and next pitch.
So Tillman has to settle for his fifth career one-hitter of six innings or more and his first of at least eight innings since Sept. 28, 2012. He has now won five consecutive decisions after starting the year 2-7 and has lowered his ERA to under 5.00 (4.96) for the first time since April 6, his first start of the year. With 105 pitches thrown, Tillman gave way in the ninth to closer Zach Britton, who picked up his 24th save with a perfect inning.
Playing before an announced 40,033 at Comerica Park, the Tigers (45-45) wasted a gem by their ace, lefty David Price, who basically made one costly pitch.
With one out in the third, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado lifted an 81-mph curveball from Price over the left-field wall for his 20th homer of the season. It gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead and the 23-year-old Machado the first 20-homer season of his young career. He also broke a tie with Chris Davis for the team lead in homers.
“When you've got a pitcher up there like Price, throwing well, dominating, [you do] anything possible,” Machado said. “You try to get on base or hit a homer. When you get an early lead on that guy, it is something you need to [keep], especially with a guy like that.”
Price, who was making the 200th start of his splendid career, was superb again. Through four innings, he had already fanned 10 batters — the third time this season and 28th time as a big leaguer that he has struck out at least 10.
The last time the Orioles faced Price was Oct. 5, 2014 in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. He threw well in that one, too, but served up a two-run homer to Nelson Cruz and was outdueled by Bud Norris as the Orioles won, 2-1, to clinch the series.
In his career against the Orioles, the 2012 Cy Young Award winner for the Tampa Bay Rays was 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 17 starts heading into Saturday night.
“You know that Price is going to be real stingy there, so we had to make use of what we've got,” Showalter said. “But it looked like it was going to be a 1-0 game.”
Price (9-3) allowed just six hits in seven innings, walking just one. After Machado's homer, the Orioles didn't get a runner to second base until Adam Jones led off the sixth with a double to left that just missed clearing the wall.
It set up an opportunity for the Orioles to improve on their skid with runners in scoring position. Instead, they went hitless in four at-bats in the inning, getting two strikeouts, a groundout and an error by Detroit third baseman Nick Castellanos. But they didn't score a run.
They finally broke through in the ninth when Caleb Joseph hit a two-out sinking liner to center against reliever Bruce Rondon that Anthony Gose couldn't catch.
Up until that point, the Orioles had been 8-for-100 (.080) with runners in scoring position dating to June 29 and were 2-for-60 (.033) in those situations since the seventh inning on July 5.
Joseph's clutch hit gave the Orioles breathing room and a chance at a series win Sunday when right-handers Miguel Gonzalez and Justin Verlander face off.
The story of the night, though, was Tillman improving to 4-0 against the Tigers in his career and reminding himself and others how good he can be.
“It was awesome. It was much needed for him and much needed for the team,” Machado said. “His last couple starts he's been getting back in the groove, so it feels good to see him throwing the ball well, controlling his pitches and dominating with that fastball that he has. We're looking forward to him taking this team to the playoffs, where it needs to go.”