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Orioles recap: Chris Tillman fans nine as Birds avoid sweep with 3-1 win over Rays

Chris Tillman had his best start of 2016, fanning nine in 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

The Orioles had just three hits Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, so their offense definitely didn’t break out in their 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field. But right-hander Chris Tillman didn’t need much run support.

Rookie outfielder Joey Rickard provided all of the Orioles' offense with one swing, hitting a three-run homer in the fifth inning.

Tillman had his best start of the season and his second straight quality start, tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two singles. Over his past two starts, the Orioles’ Opening Day starter has a 1.42 ERA, lowering his season ERA to 3.24.

“It was a typical Earl Weaver game tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, referring to Weaver’s mantra of winning with pitching, defense and three-run homers. “We’ll take it and go home. We pitched good.”

With the win, the Orioles (12-8) avoided a three-game sweep at Tampa Bay. They won just two of their six games on their road trip against the Kansas City Royals and Rays, but now start a 10-game homestand at Camden Yards on Thursday against the Chicago White Sox.

Tillman tied his career high with nine strikeouts and walked two while using his complete arsenal of pitches.

“I think [it was him] staying in his delivery that long,” Showalter said. “He threw a lot of strikes with all his pitches. Sometimes, you can kind of box out a pitch when guys don’t have command of it. … When you get major league hitters in a 50-50 proposition on pitches, they’re going to hurt you. But you cut it down to 20 percent is what they’re looking for, and command.”

He retired 11 of 12 Tampa Bay batters before issuing a two-out walk to Logan Morrison in the seventh, the final batter he faced. Four of his final five outs came by strikeout, including two that came on Tillman’s emerging slider.

“He’s probably not real happy with the manager right now, but I don’t blame him,” Showalter said about pulling Tillman with two outs in the seventh.  

“I always want to stay out there,” Tillman said. “We have a couple of guys who haven’t thrown for a couple of days, and I get it. I get it. When you’re in the moment, of course, I want to be in that game. I never want to come out of the game with runners on base regardless.”

Tillman retired the first nine batters he faced before allowing a leadoff single to Logan Forsythe in the fourth and walking Brad Miller. Both base runners moved into scoring position on Evan Longoria’s deep flyout to center.

But Tillman regrouped quickly, striking out designated hitter Corey Dickerson on four pitches and inducing an inning-ending pop-up to catcher Matt Wieters in foul territory near the backstop.

“I felt good coming in,” Tillman said. “I kind of had it from the get-go. Being able to carry it over into the game is a big part of it, and we got it going from the get-go. It was good to see.”

Tillman has enjoyed success over his career at Tropicana Field, recording eight quality starts in 10 career outings at the ballpark, posting a 2.61 ERA. 

Rickard rips one

Despite a 2-for-20 slump entering Wednesday’s game, Showalter stuck with Rickard in the leadoff spot, and the manager's faith paid off. 

Rickard has remained patient at the plate through his slump, but jumped on a first-pitch two-seam fastball from Rays left-hander Matt Moore in the fifth inning and sent it deep into the left-field stands to score the Orioles' only runs. 

Rickard's second homer of the season came against the organization that left him unprotected for the Orioles to pluck him in the Rule 5 draft.

“It’s a great feeling,” Rickard said of giving the Orioles a 3-0 lead. “Just given the fact that our pitching’s been doing what they’ve been doing, it’s good to finally put a couple runs on them and give them the lead.”

After going 1-for-3 against Moore, Rickard is now hitting 7-for-18 this season against left-handed pitching, good for a .389 average. 

Tillman gets best of Longoria

Tillman has struggled against few hitters more than Rays third baseman Evan Longoria over the course of his career. Entering Wednesday’s game, Longoria was hitting .333 in 51 career at-bats against Tillman. The seven homers Tillman allowed to Longoria are the most by any hitter he has faced.

But on Wednesday night, Tillman retired Longoria all three times he faced him.

Tillman struck out Longoria in their final meeting to end the sixth inning, getting him swinging on an 85-mph changeup that tailed away from the batter.

“I’m always satisfied anytime I keep that guy in check,” Tillman said of Longoria. “He’s got my number. He’s got it going, too. Luckily we came out on top tonight.” 

Davis robbed by Souza

The Rays played stellar defense against the Orioles all series long, and Wednesday’s game might have provided the best defensive play of the series.

With one out in the fourth, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis launched a 1-0 pitch from Moore into the right-center gap, but right fielder Steven Souza Jr. made a tremendous diving catch retreating onto the warning track in front of the 370-foot sign.

In Davis’ last at-bat of the night, he was called safe after legging out a ball he hit into the shift when Forsythe’s throw from second appeared to pull Morrison off the first base bag. But after a Rays challenge, the call was overturned.

Britton gets save

Despite allowing a run in the ninth, Orioles closer Zach Britton converted his fifth save in as many opportunities.

Britton hadn’t pitched much recently. He threw just five pitches in his previous outing Sunday, which was his only appearance over the five games heading into Wednesday.

He was almost able to overcome a leadoff single by Longoria, inducing a fielder’s choice from Brandon Guyer and striking out Desmond Jennings. But former Oriole Steve Pearce’s two-out RBI single up the middle ended the Orioles’ shutout bid. 

Britton rebounded, getting Souza to hit a chopper to shortstop for the final out of the game.

“Zach does what Zach’s been doing,” Showalter said. “He only threw five pitches in about six or seven days. I definitely wanted to get him out there before we got home.” 

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