ANAHEIM, Calif. — In this Southern California landscape full of highways, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman grew up just about 15 miles away from Angel Stadium. As a kid, he rooted for the Angels. And despite having 56 major league starts under his belt over parts of five big league seasons, Thursday night’s against the Angels was his first one in a long drive back home.
It was worth the wait.
In Tillman’s homecoming, he turned in one of his most dominating starts of his big league career, allowing just three hits over eight scoreless innings to lead the Orioles to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in the opener of this four-game series.
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“It’s special,” Tillman said. “I think it’s always fun to pitch in front of your family and friends, especially to pitch a good one like that. I was happy with it. In high school, [I] came out quite a bit, watched the old Angels play and came up a big Angels fan.”
The Orioles (17-12) scored just three runs in eight innings against Angels starter Joe Blanton, but it was enough to earn their fifth win in eight games on this three-city, 11-game West Coast road trip. One more win in the remaining three games will ensure a winning record on their only road trip entirely through the AL West this season.
The win was the Orioles’ third in their last 11 games at Angel Stadium and their sixth in the last 19 games against the Angels overall.
Tillman – who was born in Anaheim and grew up and lives in nearby Fountain Valley – slept in his own bed Wednesday night after the team decided to fly him into town ahead of the team so he could get extra rest.
“I did sleep in my own bed thank God,” Tillman said. “[It’s] 15 minutes no traffic [to my house] – with California traffic, about four hours.”
Come game time, Tillman commanded all three pitches – fastball, changeup and curveball – brilliantly in front of family and friends.
“I know I left 25 [tickets] and I think more than double that came on their own,” Tillman said. “There are quite a few people here tonight.
He enjoyed his best performance of the season after overcoming some early obstacles. Tillman threw 24 pitches in a first inning in which he allowed two singles and a walk and needed a pinpoint throw to the plate from right fielder Nick Markakis to prevent a run.
The 25-year-old Tillman cruised through a treacherous Angels lineup – throwing 23 of 29 first-pitch strikes at one point retiring 11 straight and ultimately 20 of the final 21 batters he faced.
“He sort of found his groove there in the third or fourth inning and then he kind of rolled with it for a few innings,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “And then I think at the end he sensed the finish line and really gave it a good effort at the end.”
After Hank Conger's single with one out in the second, Tillman didn’t allow another baserunner until Erick Aybar’s single led off the sixth and nothing after that before giving way to closer Jim Johnson in the ninth. Seventy-three of Tillman’s 114 pitches were strikes.
“That’s some kind of tough lineup to go through,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He had a lot of things working for him. Three pitches.”
It was Tillman’s longest outing since going eight innings Sept. 28 against Boston.
Johnson yielded a solo homer to Albert Pujols in the ninth, but that wasn’t enough for an free-falling Angels team that set a club record with 17 losses in the month of April and has now lost seven of its last nine.
In two career starts against the Angels (10-18), Tillman has a 1.84 ERA. He is also 9-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 career starts against teams from the AL West.
Third baseman Manny Machado extended his hitting streak to 11 games, getting two hits, including an RBI single in the third that plated the Orioles’ first run of the game. The 20-year-old Machado has seven multi-hit games in that span.
Nate McLouth also had two hits, including a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to center field off reliever Ryan Brasier, which gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead. McLouth has reached safely in 18 of his 21 starts this season.
First baseman Chris Davis, who earlier in the day was named the AL Player of the Month for April, drove in his 29th run of the season with a double in the sixth, scoring Adam Jones from first to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Markakis gave the Orioles added insurance in the seventh with a two-out double down the right-field line. That hit plated Nolan Reimold, who reached on a two-out throwing error by Brendan Harris.
Markakis also made an impact with his arm. With runners on first and second and two outs in the first inning, Josh Hamilton singled to right, but Markakis rifled a perfect throw home on one hop to get Mike Trout at the plate.
“It’s huge,” Tillman said. “I think that got the momentum back in our dugout. I struggled early with command and after that play, baseball is a big momentum game and we were able to get it back in our dugout there.”