Among the professional athletes I’ve covered, Chris Tillman is way up on the list when it comes to not being concerned about how he is viewed by anyone other than his teammates.
He never, ever boasts about his own accomplishments. In fact, he usually downplays everything he has done.
So let’s boast for him.
Tillman deserved to be in the 2016 All Star Game, though he says he’s not disappointed that he was passed over.
“The American League is a good league. There are a lot of good pitchers. A lot of guys that deserve it,” Tillman said. “We’ve got five guys going, so that makes everyone in this clubhouse happy. We’re well represented. I’m not disappointed at all.”
If AL manager Ned Yost had chosen Tillman, it would have been his second selection. He also made it in 2013, when he was 11-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 19 starts.
This year he is 12-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 19 starts after Sunday’s victory against the Los Angeles Angels. So he’s even better than he was the last time he got the nod. And his importance to the beleaguered Orioles staff is immeasurable. The Orioles are 16-3 when he starts and 35-33 when anyone else does.
“I worked out with him in the offseason. I know how much he put into it, and we know that he’s performed at the level of the guys that are going (to the All Star Game),” said Orioles All Star closer Zach Britton. “It’s nice to get recognized, and he definitely deserves it. I would think you would even say more so than he did when he made it in 2013 … He’s definitely pitched like we’re a first-place team. He’s the highlight guy of our rotation and we’ve pretty much ridden his back to where we are now.”
On Sunday afternoon, while Tillman was pitching, it was announced that Cleveland’s Danny Salazar was being scratched from the All Star team due elbow soreness and would be replaced by Chicago’s Jose Quintana, who is 7-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 18 starts for a middling White Sox club.
Sure, the Orioles already have five All Stars. And that’s plenty. But that’s also one fewer than the Boston Red Sox, and the Orioles are leading the East.
Tillman probably would have been a slam-dunk, but he hit a rough patch in June, allowing 14 earned runs in a three-game stretch. But he’s bounced back with two effective outings to finish the first half.
Because he pitched Sunday, that also hurt his chances to be selected – something Orioles manager Buck Showalter alluded to. But Showalter added something that I’m sure would resonate with Tillman.
“I know there is one thing Chris wants to really go to and that’s the last game of the World Series,” Showalter said. “That’s what he’s interested in.”
I get all that. And I’m sure Tillman could use the rest, too. So it may be a good thing for the 2016 Orioles that he’s not an All Star.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a snub.
Britton’s amazing surge
Britton picked up his 27th save in 27 save opportunities with a scoreless inning Sunday. And that’s impressive enough.
But it was the 28-year-old’s 100th career save – incredible considering the converted starter took over the closer’s role in May 2014.
He had 37 saves that year, 36 in 2015 and now 27 so far this season.
“That’s a nice little number but, I think it’s more of a credit to how well Darren (O’Day) and Brad (Brach) have thrown in front of me, and a lot of other guys too, to put me in a situation to be successful,” Britton said. “It’s a group effort.”
The humility thing is contagious in the Orioles’ clubhouse and that’s a good thing. But I only see one guy out there on the mound in the ninth inning with the game on the line for the Orioles.
It’s pretty crazy how Britton has seized the job and, almost immediately, became one of the best in the game at shutting the door on the opposition.
He’s one of only five men who have saved 100 games for the Orioles, joining Gregg Olson (160), Jim Johnson (122), Tippy Martinez (105) and Stu Miller (100). That’s pretty good company.
First place is first place
There’s obviously another half of baseball to go.
But the Orioles (51-36) are in first in the AL East, two games ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.
That’s not much of a margin. But it’s better than the alternative.
“It’s obvious what’s ahead of us. A lot of challenges. But we have a chance to play meaningful games every day. They were in April, OK? So, they’ve earned that and they want it. They want to be in that cooker,” Showalter said of his players. “That’s the difference between them and a lot of people. They want to play. They want to be in the arena, not watching outside-in. Everybody would like to be in it, but they don’t have the ability that they have. They want that. Have to cross a lot of roads to get there, though. A lot of roads.”
And, when you think about it, this wasn’t an easy road. They’ve had injuries, they’ve had losing streaks, they’ve had terrible starting pitching and awful free-swinging for stretches. And they are leading their division at the break.
“I don’t know if we even had halfway goals to be honest with you. I think it’s always just kind of an overall goal: Where are you at the end of the year?” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “I think we played well. I think there have been times that we’ve really shown we are a complete team and then there have been times when we’ve struggled.”
Lincecum pitches at Camden Yards for first time
The Orioles faced right-hander Tim Lincecum on Sunday for just the second time in his heralded career, touching him up for nine hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings (one run, though, was set up by the Angels’ spotty defense).
It was the just the fifth start of the season for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who began the year late due to left hip surgery last September.
Lincecum had a showcase in May and the Orioles attended. They obviously needed starting pitching, but they knew at the time – and were right – that Lincecum preferred to stay on the West Coast.
Lincecum was a long-time star with the San Francisco Giants, who drafted him with the 10th overall pick in 2006.
That draft always haunts the Orioles, who had the ninth pick in 2006 and selected New Jersey high school slugger Billy Rowell, who didn’t get higher than Double-A Bowie. The 11th pick in the draft was another Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer.
Oh well, the Orioles are in first place at the 2016 All Star Break, right?