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Top starter Chris Tillman struggles in short outing

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman talks about putting the bullpen in a tough situation, by only pitching into the fifth inning. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

When the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals each swept their opponents in the American League Division Series, there was no question which two pitchers would face off in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series.

Chris Tillman has been the Orioles' most consistently reliable starter for two years and, in his only outing versus the Royals this season, he recorded the first shutout of his career.

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Kansas City countered with right-hander James Shields, whose nickname is "Big Game James," for goodness sake.

Both pitchers threw more than 200 innings in the regular season and posted ERAs under 3.40 (3.34 for Tillman; 3.21 for Shields). It was a classic pitching matchup for the postseason -- though Tillman tried to downplay it leading up to the game.

"I think, as a starting pitcher, my mindset is it's not me versus James, it's not me versus whoever," Tillman said during Thursday's news conference for the Game 1 starters. "It's me versus the Royals."

Still, both sides had who they wanted on the mound for Game 1.

And neither No. 1 starter factored into the decision. Tillman didn't even get through the fifth inning -- something he had done in his previous 22 starts, including last week's Game 1 victory against the Detroit Tigers.

"It's tough. I put my bullpen in a tough situation," Tillman said after the game. "It's tough to watch on my part. It's not good enough, got to be better."

The Orioles 26-year-old right-hander struggled with his location and was in trouble in every inning, allowing five runs, seven hits and two walks in 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered four runs in the third on a solo homer by Alcides Escobar and a three-run, broken-bat double by Alex Gordon that landed near the line in right field.

"I executed the pitch I wanted to," Tillman said. "He hit it to a spot of the field that no one in the game is going to catch that ball. You tip your cap, I guess. He put a pretty good swing on the ball and found a hole where we weren't."

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Tillman was chased with one out in the fifth, leaving a runner on third base that ultimately scored on a sacrifice fly by Billy Butler. It was the first time since June 5 in Texas that Tillman had allowed five runs in an outing. He has now given up three home runs and seven runs in 9 1/3 innings in his two postseason starts (6.75 ERA).

The good news for Tillman and the Orioles is that Shields wasn't any better. He did last five innings, but gave up four runs and 10 hits. He pitched out of jams, but couldn't hold a four-run lead, allowing the Orioles to storm back in a three-run fifth to close the gap to 5-4. The big hit was a two-run single to right field by Ryan Flaherty.

"I felt I made a lot of good pitches today, they were just kind of finding holes, a couple jam-shots here and there," Shields said. "They got a couple hits when they needed to."

Shields, who earned his catchy moniker during the 2008 playoffs, has not exactly excelled in the postseason recently. His only quality start in five postseason outings since 2008 came in Sunday's clincher when he allowed just two runs in six innings for the victory against the heavily favored Los Angeles Angels. Otherwise, he has been pretty pedestrian.

After Friday's start, Shields now has a 5.19 ERA in nine postseason games, allowing 29 runs in 50 1/3 innings pitched.

He left with the lead, but the Orioles tied it in the sixth on an infield single, making sure the two starting pitchers would be footnotes in a nail-biting Game 1.

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