NEW YORK - Chris Tillman looks like a guy who should be wrapped in a blanket and fed chicken soup, not a major league pitcher who should be standing on the mound in front of a hostile crowd at Yankee Stadium.
It hurts to watch Tillman try to speak, to think, to stand up straight while waiting for reporters to approach him. But he gutted out five innings tonight to win his third consecutive start and snap a three-game losing streak to the Yankees, defeating them for the first time since Sept. 11, 2009.
“I didn’t feel all that great, but there’s no excuse to not make good pitches there early on,” he said. “This was a battle from the get-go for me and I can’t give enough credit to (Matt) Wieters there for keeping me in the game. I was kind of out there fighting stuff on the mound, just trying to get through.
“I think being a hitter himself, he sees what these guys are seeing at the plate and I think he’s got a good feel for his starting pitcher that night. Without him back there tonight, I think it would have been a long night for me. Not that it wasn’t, but I think him and the offense deserve a lot of the credit tonight, not me.”
Asked how close he came to not making his start, Tillman replied, “I don’t know. That’s out of my control. It’s up to them. I told them I was good. I was able to throw. It wasn’t bad enough that I wasn’t able to go out there and not give my team a chance to win. I wish I was a little better, though.”
Tillman had to change his game plan a bit after a visit from Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair in the first inning.
“I did throw some pitches in counts that I normally wouldn’t, and like I said, Wieters guided me through that game,” Tillman said. “He did a great job. And there were good defensive plays, too, to help me get out of it.”
Tillman gave up five runs and six hits in the first, but the Orioles responded with seven runs in the second.
“It was huge. It was big,” he said. “It’s fun pitching with the lead and I think those guys picked me up big time tonight, and I’m happy for them at the same time. Just got to keep it going.
“As a starting pitcher, it was good to see that. The longer you sit in the dugout, some guys complain about it, but I’ll take that on a night like tonight. They did a great job. It was more of an offensive night for both teams and I’m real happy with it.”
Not that he had the strength to smile.
“I haven’t felt very good,” he said. “They sent me home yesterday, got me on some antibiotics and told me to get some sleep. I knew I had a big start here tonight and I think it helped. If you had asked me yesterday, I probably would have said, ‘No,’ but I woke up this morning feeling much better. I was happy to get through those five innings. Put it that way.”
So how did it look from Wieters’ vantage point?
“You know coming out of the first inning, he doesn’t have his Grade-A stuff, so you have to find some way to be able to get him deeper into the game,” Wieters said. “He did a great job of being able to throw off-speed stuff for strikes and mixing it in, which made up for not being able to locate his fastball as good as we’ve seen in the past.
“That first inning took it out of him. It was a stressful and tough first inning to come out of the bullpen and give up a five-spot real quick. That’s what’s really impressive about him. He’s still 24 years old and he knew if he could keep us in there, we’d have a chance.”
Chris Davis gave the Orioles a 7-5 lead with his grand slam.
“It felt great,” Davis said. “I honestly didn’t know when I hit it that it was going to go out. I looked up, and (Curtis) Granderson was running with his head down, and I was hoping it would get off the wall into the bullpen, so that was awesome.”
The Orioles never trailed after that seven-run inning. They never let the Yankees score again.
“It’s definitely more exciting being on the other end of that,” Davis said. “It felt like the first inning was never going to end, and then we were able to come out there and take back the momentum and really quiet the crowd and kind of ride that out for the majority of the game, so it does really fly by when you’re scoring runs like that. It feels a lot better than being on the other end of it.”
The bullpen stirred in the first inning, with relievers getting their bodies loose and Matt Lindstrom beginning to throw. Troy Patton was the first to enter, but not until the sixth, and he allowed two hits and struck out three in two scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.85.
“We were all stretching in the first, obviously, because we were getting worried out there in the bullpen,” Patton said, “but he did a great job eating up innings and pitching later in the game than we thought he was going to, and he gave us a good chance to win after the offense exploded the way they did.”