ARLINGTON, TEXAS — The first and only time Chris Tillman had pitched at Rangers Ballpark back in July 2010, the Orioles right-hander turned in what might have been his signature performance as a major leaguer, taking a no-hit bid into the seventh against a club that eventually made it to the World Series that year.
Tillman wasn't that unhittable Tuesday night, but he was plenty good enough as the Orioles picked up a 5-3 victory to set up a series rubber match with the Rangers tonight.
"It ain't easy," said Tillman, who allowed three runs on six hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings. "These guys have a great lineup, and you've got to respect that whether you are ahead or behind. … You've got to pitch them tough."
The only early mistake Tillman made was a third-inning solo homer to Ian Kinsler, who incidentally broke up Tillman's no-hit bid with a one-out single two-plus years ago.
On Tuesday, Tillman cruised into the seventh with a four-run lead before serving up a two-run shot to new Texas catcher Geovany Soto. Tillman, who was coming off two consecutive disappointing outings in which he failed to get through six innings, was pulled with two outs in the seventh.
And that's when things really got interesting on a mild August night before an announced crowd of 32,146.
Former Ranger Darren O'Day allowed a walk and a single to the only batters he faced, and Pedro Strop, another ex-Ranger, came in to face slugger Josh Hamilton. On a 3-2 count, Hamilton crushed a slider to deep right that just sailed foul.
"When I heard the sound of the bat, I was like 'Oh, he got me.' But then I saw the ball right away flying out," Strop said. "That was a good feeling, seeing the ball flying out [foul]. But the sound of the bat scared me a little bit."
Strop then threw another slider — this time in the dirt — and Hamilton swung and missed to end the threat.
"Obviously Pedro came in a bad situation today and he stopped the momentum," closer Jim Johnson said. "And we talk about that all the time. If we do that, our guys know what to do with it, play good defense and finish out the game."
Strop threw a scoreless eighth and Johnson delivered a perfect ninth to pick up his 38th save in 41 attempts, putting him second in franchise history for saves in a season behind only Randy Myers' 45 saves in 1997.
Tillman (6-2) made it into the seventh by mixing his pitches and moving them all around the plate. He threw 64 of his 101 pitches for strikes and struck out seven, tying a season-high set in his first start of the year in Seattle — again reminiscent of his last gem in Texas.
"Young players reach back for different memories and stuff. I think it gives him a little [boost] knowing that he is capable of it in the venue," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But Chris has pitched some big games home and away. I'm hoping that you are starting to see a guy that really trusts himself."
With the victory, the Orioles (67-56) now have 35 road wins, their most since 2005 and tied for most in the American League with the Tampa Bay Rays. They also have a chance to win four straight road series if they can beat the AL West-leading Rangers (71-51) tonight.
The Orioles also maintained the second wild-card spot, moved within one game of the Rays for the top post and five games behind the AL East-leading New York Yankees in the division race.
Tuesday's game was knotted at 1-1 in the fifth when the Orioles exploded for four runs against big Texas right-hander Scott Feldman. Rookie Manny Machado had the first big knock — an RBI triple to right-center for his eighth extra-base hit in 12 big league games. It came right after he fouled a pitch off his right knee, focring him ti recoil in pain
Machado nearly had another extra-base hit in the third when he attempted to stretch a single into a double but was called out on a play in which he appeared safe.
J.J. Hardy plated Machado with a double in the fifth, and Nate McLouth followed with his first homer as an Oriole, a two-run shot against Feldman (6-9), who lasted just five innings. McLouth hadn't homered in the big leagues since July 17, 2011, when he was with the Atlanta Braves.
"I don't ever take any day in the big leagues for granted," said McLouth, who was recalled by the Orioles Aug. 4. "But to be able to do it for a team that is pushing here late in the season is a lot more fun."
McLouth also gave the Orioles their first run — in a little more unconventional way. He walked with two outs in the first, stole second and moved to third on an errant throw by Soto. McLouth then dashed home on a Feldman wild pitch.
The Orioles had their big fifth inning and then held on, thanks to the nearly always effective duo of Strop and Johnson, for their 20th two-run victory of the year and their 43rd by two runs or fewer.
"We have to win every series, especially with the teams in our division," Johnson said. "We know what Tampa is doing. We know what New York is doing. They are playing good baseball, and we've got to at least keep pace with them."