The scene was a familiar one to long suffering fans of the Baltimore Orioles. A game in the Bronx in July and the Orioles were already down 5-0 as the second inning began. The game was effectively over before it had even truly started. Sure, this team – this season – had been different from the teams and seasons of recent memory, but we had seen this particular scene play out far too many times to believe the script could really be all that different this go around. A big lead for the Yankees in New York and a struggling young pitcher on the mound for the Birds – this game had “we’ll get them tomorrow” written all over it.
The top of the second inning opened with Adam Jones and Matt Wieters singling on back-to-back singles against Yankee starter Ivan Nova. Lew Ford and Wilson Betemit followed up by striking out on six straight pitches. Nova got ahead 0-2 on Mark Reynolds as it appeared the back-to-back lead-off singles were going to end up as nothing but a tease. Then suddenly – unexpectedly – the script was flipped.
Reynolds took the 0-2 pitch into the left field corner for a ground rule double, scoring Jones in the process. Omar Quintanilla hit a 2-0 pitch into centerfield to plate two more Orioles runs. Nick Markakis singled and JJ Hardy followed with a four-pitch walk. The game was already veering way off the usual path when Chris Davis stepped to the plate and took a 1-0 fastball to left-centerfield for a Grand Slam. Just like that, it was Orioles 7, Yankees 5.
As exciting and unusual as the 2nd inning comeback against the Yankees was, there was still the pesky task of holding onto the new found lead. Based on his performance in the first inning, Chris Tillman certainly didn’t look like a pitcher that would be able to hold onto a 2-run lead in the Bronx for very long. He had thrown 36 pitches in the first on his way to allowing 5 runs. He looked tired and off his game, which we would later find out was the result of flu-like symptoms he was battling.
Fortunately, the Chris Tillman that took the mound in the second inning didn’t look anything like the pitcher the Yankees had beat up on in the first. Tillman sat the Yankees down in order in the 2nd. The Yankees managed only two hits total in the next two innings, before Tillman delivered another perfect frame in the fifth. He returned to the dugout after the fifth inning and took a seat on the bench. Bent over at the waist and with sweat pouring off of his forehead, Tillman looked like he had been through a war. Television cameras captured the scene as Buck Showalter approached his exhausted starting pitcher. Buck placed a hand on the young pitcher’s shoulder, looked him right in the eye, and let him know just how proud and appreciative he was of his performance that night. Tillman mustered up enough strength to nod, before his head slumped down once again. It was an inspiring tough-as-nail performance from a pitcher that many Orioles fans had practically written off just a couple of months earlier.
The O’s tacked on several more runs while the bullpen performed their usual shutdown duties, on the way to an 11-5 win. The Birds would be blown out the next day and were unable to finish off a rare sweep in New York. Still, in a season full of landscape altering games and moments, the game on July 31st stands out among the rest. It became clear that night that – at least for one season – the days of the Orioles rolling over and dying for the Yankees were a thing of the past.