Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about the pitching difficulties Chris Tillman had against the Boston Red Sox as well as the hitting difficulties the team had during the series. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles arrived at the ballpark Thursday needing starting pitcher Chris Tillman to be the same guy who has thrown his body in front of just about every kind of adversity the team has faced over the course of this season.
What they didn't need at this time of crisis was for Tillman to show such a lack of command that it was hard not to wonder whether he really is completely healthy.
He insisted he is, but lasted just 1 2/3 innings, threw 63 pitches and allowed three runs on five hits and three walks, which is no way to start a game against $217 million left-hander David Price, even on a night when the Boston Red Sox ace wasn’t at his best.
The Orioles tried to rally, but who were they kidding? The Red Sox simply kept the heat on and completed the devastating four-game sweep with a 5-3 victory before 26,788 at Camden Yards that knocked the Orioles a half-game out of the second wild-card spot.
Tillman came back from a three-week battle with bursitis in his pitching shoulder to deliver a pair of solid starts, but he struggled with his command and allowed eight of the 13 batters he faced to reach base. When he walked back-to-back hitters with two outs in the second to force home the third Red Sox run, manager Buck Showalter had seen enough.
“I was just mechanically bad tonight," Tillman said. “The more I tried to make an adjustment, the worse it got for me. I just couldn’t hit [spots] on a consistent basis. It wasn’t good. The command was bad from the get-go and I was never able to find it.”
He said unequivocally that his shoulder felt fine and that there is nothing physically wrong with him, which made it all the more frustrating that he could not pull the Orioles out of their crunch-time slide.
“He said he felt good, just was a little out of whack mechanically," Showalter said. “Said he couldn’t command the ball, which obviously was the opposite of what Price was able to do.”
Showalter brought on long reliever Vance Worley, who got out of the jam and worked 3 1/3 solid innings while the Orioles tried to figure out Price.
They'll probably have to ask rookie Trey Mancini, who got them back into the game with a game-tying three-run home run in the third and tried to help overcome a one-run Red Sox lead with a leadoff double in the sixth, but didn't get any farther than second base.
Price completed seven innings and allowed those three runs on six hits and two walks. He's now 17-8 with a 3.91 ERA.
Mancini's three-run blast single-handedly ended a string of five games in which the Orioles had scored two runs or fewer, but the Red Sox's late-season roll was not to be stopped. They have won eight straight games since Kevin Gausman shut them out on Sept. 14 at Fenway Park. The Orioles, meanwhile, have lost six of eight and now are fighting for their postseason life.
The Orioles certainly appear to be on the edge of darkness, but Tillman said that no one in the clubhouse doubts that they can turn things around in time to make the postseason.
“I think we’ve got a good clubhouse, a good team and we know what we’re capable of," Tillman said. “We just didn’t get it done this series. I think we move on and look to play better baseball tomorrow.”
Big Papi's retirement present
The Orioles honored retiring Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz with a joke gift and a charitable donation during a brief pregame ceremony Thursday. The club attached the telephone box that Ortiz destroyed in an infamous 2013 dugout tirade to a wooden plaque. Adam Jones delivered it to Ortiz, who can mount it in his trophy room and attack it anytime he wants. The club also made a $10,000 donation in Ortiz's name to the World Pediatric Project, which helps critically ill children in his native Dominican Republic.
Mancini, a late call-up made his second start of the season Thursday and mashed his second home run – the three-run shot off Price in the third inning bringing the Orioles back from an early 3-0 deficit. The crowd clamored for Mancini to take his second curtain call in two starts, but he remained in the dugout. One curtain call in a losing streak apparently is enough. But just to show it was no fluke, Mancini doubled off Price in his next at-bat.