ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles were lucky to escape Tropicana Field with one win in last year's opening series. They'll go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon.
Oh, how times have changed.
"This has always been a tough place for us and I think for a lot of people in the last three or four years," said second baseman Brian Roberts.
"You start to have flashbacks to other years. You just know how difficult it is to win here. The atmosphere, the way their team sets up, they always play well late in the game, so for us to get two early in close games is great."
Chris Tillman gave the Orioles six hitless innings, walking three batters and throwing 101 pitches.
"What more can you ask for from your starting pitchers?" Roberts said. "Chris was as good as I have ever seen him here. I know he's pitched well in the minor leagues before, but I mean, that's as good as I have ever seen him throw the ball. It's exciting to get off to that kind of start with your starting pitching."
Manager Buck Showalter wasn't going to let Tillman pitch the seventh.
"Was there any thought? Yeah," Showalter said. "He had thrown six (innings) and 98 (pitches) at the most (in spring training) and that's right where he needs to be. It's a marathon and we're also trying to develop pitchers. These young pitchers are precious commodities for us and that's just part of it. This is what we're trying to do and we're going to protect them. But if he continues to pitch like that, there will be plenty of opportunities. But what are they going to end up, throwing 170, 180? Now if he gets through the seventh inning, we've got it set up pretty good for us."
Here are some quotes from Tillman:
"I was encouraged by what I saw, what me and Goose (Mark Connor) worked on. It carried over well after the first two innings. The first two innings I was a little inefficient with my pitches. I would have liked to be a little more efficient, but I think it came out all right."
Was he nervous?
"I was so nervous, but at the same time, I felt comfortable," he said. "It was one of those things where I was a little amped up, a little nervous. But I settled down there after the second."
Did he feel like he had something to prove?
"Absolutely," he said. "I know I was the underdog going into spring training. I read all of it. I went out there with a chip on my shoulder. I had to. Really, all I wanted to do is carry the momentum over from the offseason into spring training. I think I made some good strides here."
Does this team have a winning mentality?
"Absolutely," he said. "We're all out here to win. We're not out here to lose, I'll tell you that much. I think Buck's kind of put that confidence in us. We watched that video again the other day and we were just as pumped up. There's no secret behind it. We're all here to win every day."
How did he feel about leaving the game with a no-hitter?
"Like I said, I was a little inefficient the first couple of innings," he said. "Maybe a month down the road, I'd still be in the game, but it was my first one."
Kevin Gregg picked up the save in dramatic fashion, thanks to Nick Markakis' sensational catch on Ben Zobrist's long fly ball.
"I knew (Zobrist) got it off the end, but you know it plays pretty small over there," Gregg said. "As soon as I looked over there and I saw the way Nick was running at the ball, I felt like we had a chance. About three-quarters of the way through, I could tell it was going to be short, it was just going to be a matter of if he was going to jump high enough. Obviously, he's got good hop, so it helped out.
It's always good to get that first appearance out of the way.
"Oh yeah, to get out there to get the first game with a new team, it's exciting," Gregg said. "You get a little amped up for it, and I think the way Gonzo (Michael Gonzalez) threw was a case of it. He got a little excited, a little over-jazzed. I think we all did. Now that we're a couple games in, we're starting to get in the groove of things."
Is everyone amped up on this team?
Gregg was impressed with Tillman.
"Oh, you can't say enough about that," Gregg said. "What Tilly did tonight, it was unbelievable. I don't think anybody expected that. We all know he's a good pitcher, but to take this Rays lineup and do what he did to it, it was fun to watch. It kept us all in the game. We are all excited on the edge of our seats the whole time."
Here's what Markakis said about Tillman:
"He pitched great. You have to tip your hat to him. I didn't think he was going to pitch as well as he did, falling behind as much as he did, but he kept his composure, threw strikes when he needed to and got big outs when he needed to."
Time to let Brian Roberts talk about Brian Roberts.
"I felt good the whole last part of spring training," he said. "It really kind of (came) as I was expecting it to. It's certainly not saying that it's going to go great every day for the whole year, but to be fairly healthy is always a good thing. You feel like you can go out there and do what you want to do, at least."
Roberts' three-run homer off reliever Jake McGee broke a scoreless tie in the eighth.
"I was fortunate, I guess, to have the chance to face him last night," Roberts said. "I only saw one pitch, but I at least had an idea, and definitely you're just looking for something to hit. I was just trying to put the barrel on it and try to score one and somehow I found the barrel and scored three."
And finally, Showalter talked about Koji Uehara's ability to "shorten the game up." He also passed along the following:
"The umpire got mad at him because he took two or three extra throws before he came on the mound, and he only gave him five. By the time I got through talking to him, (Uehara) got his full eight."
Veteran move, Buck.