The Orioles came home after a fairly stressful 3-3 road trip to Detroit and New York with a chance to get some momentum going against the Toronto Blue Jays, their first patsy of the year. But the Blue Jays didn't play their part exactly as cast, winning the first game of the series, 2-0, April 11, which is what PressBox columnist Jim Henneman would call a "reverse lock."
Let's be honest -- with Chris Tillman, the Orioles' No. 1 starter, pitching against Dustin McGowan, the Blue Jays' No. 5 starter, the hometown nine should have been -- and were -- a fairly prohibitive favorite.
But, with the aid of cool spring winds knocking down some balls, McGowan did enough to tap-dance through 6.1 innings of shutout baseball.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after the game that Tillman hadn't even had his best stuff, but Tillman sure did a pretty good impersonation of someone with top-of-the-rotation stuff. He threw 104 pitches, with 64 of them landing in the strike zone. He also struck out six and walked only one. The Blue Jays scored their two runs while Tillman was pitching, but both were unearned.
In the top of the fourth inning, Jose Bautista led off for Toronto with a high hopper to third. By the time Orioles third baseman Jonathan Schoop fielded the ball, he was pressed for time to make a good throw, and his throwing error allowed a leadoff runner to reach first base.
After Edwin Encarnacion singled, Adam Lind cooperated perfectly to end the inning on a double-play grounder to Schoop. The only problem was that Schoop tossed the ball into shallow right field, and Bautista scored a run for the Blue Jays.
Next up was catcher Dioner Navarro, who also gave the O's a chance to end the rough top of the fourth. He bounced one right to Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who calmly threw the ball to shortstop Ryan Flaherty for the force out. But when Flaherty attempted to turn a double play, his throw eluded Tillman, who was covering the first base. On that play, Encarnacion came around to score run No. 2 for the Jays.
McGowan, who missed all of the 2009, 2010 and 2012 seasons, hadn't won a big league game since 2008. Maybe his pitching didn't making him deserving of coming away with the W, but by sheer force of will and perseverance, maybe it was karma that he was owed one.
Left-hander Brett Cecil came on in relief for the Blue Jays and was perfect in retiring all five batters he faced. Although closer Sergio Santos faced only three hitters, he was likewise perfect.
The Orioles' season is only 10 games old after this loss, but this was a tough one. When your opponent's No. 5 beats your No. 1 … well, it's just not supposed to happen.
But, for one night, it did just that.
Before the April 11 game, both Showalter and shortstop J.J. Hardy said April 12 should be the day for Hardy's return. Hardy has missed six of the past seven games with muscle spasms in his lower back.
It may have seemed odd for Orioles reliever Ryan Webb to retire the first two batters in the top of the ninth and then turn the ball over to Zach Britton to pitch to one batter -- even if it was left-handed hitting Adam Lind. Because Britton had not thrown a pitch for four days, Showalter seemed keen to get him in the April 11 game, in case he needs him April 12 or April 13. Confused? Don't be. It turns out that Brian Matusz, another left-hander out of the bullpen, was ailing in the hospital, and his status was unclear for April 12. He is battling a bug that appears to have hit the Orioles' locker room pretty hard. Hitting coach Jim Presley was reportedly sick as well and left before the game began.
The April 12 matchup will be Drew Hutchison, who is 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA, going up against Bud Norris, who is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA.