I guess it doesn’t really matter how it happens. A win is all that’s important at this time of year.
So, give the Orioles credit: They beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-4, in 12 innings Sunday to split the four-game series and again close within 1 ½ games of the Minnesota Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot.
Throw out everything else, I suppose, that made Sunday occasionally painful to endure: A short start by the beleaguered Chris Tillman, an offense that kept threatening but couldn’t capitalize and a series against a lesser opponent that appeared to be slipping from their grasp.
Then Welington Castillo homers in the bottom of the ninth against Toronto closer Roberto Osuna – Castillo’s second home run of the game – and Mark Trumbo laces a long single in the bottom of the 12th to score Jonathan Schoop from second to win it.
All else is a post script. The Orioles (70-67) are now 12-2 in extra-inning games while celebrating their 11th walkoff victory of the season.
“It’s just really hard to do what they did today and have been doing. It’s just there are so many lures to give in and our guys never did, and (Toronto) didn’t either,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You had some situations where you look like you’re going to push it across and you let that snowball. You can’t let things snowball, especially this time of year where something negative happens, and when something positive happens (you) get comfortable with it. The players are just too good.”
It took 17 at-bats for the Orioles to finally get a hit with runners in scoring position Sunday – Trumbo’s would-be double that rattled in the corner long enough for Schoop to score.
“I don’t think anyone really noticed. It didn’t feel like we were coming through all that often, but we don’t dissect it like that,” said Trumbo, who has four walkoff hits this season and nine in his career. “You just do what you can. When you get the opportunity, then you want to come through.”
It wasn’t the prettiest of victories. But that doesn’t matter. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a pennant race – and the Orioles, no matter the warts, are in the thick of it.
Pulling Tillman in fifth right thing to do
Showalter is loyal to his veterans, we know that. He always talks about remembering the track record of certain players. And Tillman has been the best starter in Showalter’s tenure in Baltimore.
That, and trying to get extra rest for some of his younger pitchers, is why Tillman was placed back into the rotation while sporting an ERA that hovers around 8.00.
Track record or not, Tillman’s leash in September has to be short if he’s going to be in the rotation. Showalter reinforced that Sunday afternoon when he pulled Tillman in the fifth inning with only 72 pitches thrown.
“I felt like the other team kind of told me. (Josh) Donaldson had had some real good swings, other than the first at-bat,” Showalter said. “I’m glad to pass him on to somebody else. He’s heating up. But I think the other team kind of told me.”
Tillman had gotten through four and allowed just one mistake, Donaldson’s three-run homer in the third inning.
To set up that homer, however, Tillman walked the Blue Jays’ No. 9 hitter Richard Urena on four pitches in what was Urena’s second plate appearance in the majors. The Orioles had cut the lead to 3-2 by the top of the fifth, when Tillman allowed a leadoff double to Ryan Goins, who nearly homered. Tillman then walked Urena again, this time on five pitches.
The 21-year-old middle infielder had just 30 walks and a .286 on-base percentage in 551 plate appearances for Double-A New Hampshire before his call-up this week.
“I rarely ever in my career try to purposely walk somebody with few exceptions. But especially that guy,” Tillman said. “You’ve got to get after that guy, especially with the guys coming up behind him You’ve got to take care of the lower part of the lineup to have it translate to a good game as opposed to a short start.”
That was enough for Showalter. He summoned Mychal Givens, who escaped the mess with a strikeout, a walk of Donaldson and a lineout double play by Justin Smoak.
Not only did the move by Showalter work out, he really had no choice. Tillman needed to attack, and when he couldn’t command his pitches for the second time against a rookie as raw as you can get in the majors, the signal was there. It’s painful for Tillman – probably for Showalter, too – but he knows that’s what happens in September when he’s teetering on the ropes.
“Does it bother me? Yeah. But when we win that’s more important,” Tillman said. “I think it kind of doesn’t really matter what I do as long as the team wins. That’s the way I think everyone in here feels. Right now is the time of year we’ve got to win, especially in September You see it all the time. I feel like you’ve got all the callups here and there’s a chance for that game to get away with one more swing. I think I saw it coming, especially after I walked the guy.”
Machado claims August award
With a 17-11 August that catapulted the Orioles back into the American League Wild Card race, you had to figure a few of their players would get consideration for the league’s monthly awards.
Ultimately, Manny Machado got the nod as AL Player of the Month for his scalding August – hitting .341 with six doubles, a triple, 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 29 games. He had hits in 22 of those 29 games. It is his second monthly honor of his career; he also won in April 2016.
Machado beat out several other top performers this month including Donaldson and Orioles shortstop Tim Beckham, who received some votes after hitting .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs.
Although no other Oriole won August accolades, Trey Mancini received votes for AL Rookie of the Month (won by Boston’s Andrew Benintendi) and Dylan Bundy was in the running for AL Pitcher of the Month (won by Cleveland’s Corey Kluber).
A RISP mess on Sunday
The Orioles had plenty of chances Sunday to blow the game open, but couldn’t convert. They were 0-for-16 with runners in scoring position before Trumbo’s game winner.
Their previous runs scored on three solo homers, including two by Castillo and one by Trumbo. Mancini contributed a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
The Orioles had two runners on base in the third, seventh, eighth and ninth and couldn’t deliver.
“I think we’re always due. That’s one of the things about having continuity with players and people,” Showalter said. “Let’s be frank. There’s going to come a day before too long where there isn’t another game. So, we want the opportunity to play some more games, and games like this make you feel like you earned it.”
The Orioles have been better with runners in scoring position this year, but you have to be concerned that they still do what they’ve done in the past when reaching the postseason:
The homers become harder to hit against top pitching, and then they struggle to score.
Sunday was a discouraging reminder of that trend. But, hey, they won anyway.