Tillman guides Orioles to 4-2 win, series sweep of Rangers

July 21, 2013|By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

ARLINGTON, Texas — — When the Orioles gathered for a team workout Thursday at Rangers Ballpark for the start of the unofficial second half of the season, manager Buck Showalter gathered his team under the hot Texas sun for a brief meeting behind second base.

"The look on their faces told me, 'OK, I don't need to do this,'" Showalter said.

Showalter often talks about how this group of Orioles players are easy to trust, so he saw quickly that there was no need to preach the importance of sustaining their level of play down the stretch in search of a second straight playoff berth.

The Orioles kicked off the second half this weekend with their first road sweep of the season, relying on eight strong innings from All-Star right-hander Chris Tillman, who guided the club to a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday.

“I don't state the obvious to these guys,” Showalter said. “That shows a sign of mistrust. We had some things that we've done well that we need to continue to do and we're off to a decent start but there's 63 left to play. [We are] just trying to give ourselves the chance to play meaningful games in September.”

With the win, the Orioles (56-43) have won five straight and are now a season-high 13 games over .500 — through 99 games last season they were just five games over — as they head to Kansas City for a four-game series against the Royals.

“I think any time you come into a ballpark like this, [against] a ballclub like this, and get them all I think that's important,” Tillman said. “It's a good start to the second half. Hopefully we can keep it rolling. … It's a new start, the second half. A whole new ballgame. We are happy with where we are at and ready to keep grinding.”

Tillman (12-3) recorded his 10th win in his past 11 decisions, holding the Rangers to two runs on six hits over eight innings, striking out seven and walking three. His 12 wins this season match last year's club-high accomplished by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen.

The Rangers' two-through-five hitters were 2-for-14 with four strikeouts against Tillman. As a team, Texas was 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position with 25 runners left on base.

“He expects it when he goes out there,” catcher Matt Wieters said of Tillman. “And he expects to give us a chance to win and he expects to go deep in the game. He's a guy who's always had good stuff, but the confidence has improved every year and he's a guy whose mentality on the mound is perfect. He's not going to assume anything's going to happen but he's going to pitch his butt off.”

Tillman worked ahead of hitters and was able to throw his curveball, slider and change-up for strikes to keep Texas hitters off balance. Of the 15 1-1 counts he faced, he threw strike two on the next pitch 12 times.

“That was huge,” Wieters said. “That's a big count to get ahead and then you've got a couple of pitches to work with to get that final strike.

“He had his fastball really working for him and really we had all three offspeed pitches working. That makes it fun for a catcher. Knowing I can put down any finger and he can be around the plate with some pretty nasty stuff. He really had everything working and I could really call any pitch and been comfortable with it.”

The Orioles have received seven quality starts in the past eight games, with all seven of those quality starts producing wins. Over the three games in Texas, Orioles starters are 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA.

The Orioles offense continued their weekend assault on Rangers pitching — Baltimore outscored Texas 14-6 in the three-game series — led by Wieters, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs on the night and was 6-for-12 in the series. Wieters has hit safely in six of seven games against Texas this season and is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with four RBIs against the Rangers.

The Orioles are now 16-8 this season against the AL West and their .667 winning percentage against the division is their second best since each league went to a three-division format in 1994.

They did their damage in Texas, where they had lost five of their past six regular-season games entering the series. The Orioles never trailed during the series, had a lead in each game by the second inning and outscored the Rangers 12-0 through the first three innings of the three games here.

The Orioles left Rangers Ballpark — where they ended the Rangers' season last year by winning the AL Wild Card game — by sending them to their seventh loss in their past eight games. The Rangers were swept in a series of three or more games for just the second time this season.

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