BALTIMORE (AP) — Chris Tillman already has more wins in 2012 than his combined total over his first three years in the big leagues.
That might come as a shock, except nothing the Baltimore Orioles do this season is all that surprising anymore.
Tillman pitched eight innings of one-hit ball, Ryan Flaherty hit his first career grand slam and the Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox 9-1 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the AL’s top wild-card spot.
Chris Davis also homered for the Orioles, who kept the heat on the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East. Baltimore started the day one game behind the Yankees, who played a late game in Toronto.
Tillman (9-2) gave up a bunt single to leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik, then allowed only two walks the rest of the way in his longest outing since July 4. The right-hander retired the final 14 batters he faced, and the only run he allowed was unearned.
Tillman came to spring training with a 7-15 lifetime record. Although he pitched well in camp, he began the season with Triple-A Norfolk and remained there until July. In his last 12 starts, the 24-year-old is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA and has become one of the most effective starters on the staff.
“He’s one win away from winning 10 games, but we hopefully have bigger fish to fry,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He keeps putting himself in a position to be worthy of getting the ball.”
Said Tillman: “I feel like I’m confident in my delivery, and when you have confidence in that, things will play out well for you. I just got to take it pitch-by-pitch and not get too worried about the next inning or the next game. One step at a time.”
Troy Patton worked the ninth to complete the one-hitter.
It was the 90th win for the Orioles, who went 69-93 last season. If Baltimore wins three of its last five games it will make the postseason, regardless of how the other contenders fare.
Boston has lost 14 of 20. Starter Aaron Cook (4-11) went one-plus innings, allowing six runs, five hits and three walks. Only 18 of his 42 pitches were strikes.
“I wasn’t making pitches. I was behind, and when I did come in there they hit balls over the fence,” Cook said.
Asked what he might have done differently to be successful, Cook replied, “Not walk (anyone) and not give up hits.”
Flaherty, a Rule 5 rookie, became the latest in a long line of heroes during the Orioles’ improbable season. He was batting .225 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 72 games before connecting to cap a six-run first inning that included a two-run drive by Davis.
Flaherty also doubled in a run in the fifth. The five RBIs were two more than his previous career high, and it was only the third time he drove in more than one run in a game.
“Yeah, it seems like every night it’s someone new,” Flaherty said. “Whether it is a pitcher, a hitter, a play in the field, something. We’ll keep riding it.”
Baltimore has hit nine homers in its last two games and has 122 at home, eclipsing the season record of 121 set in 1996.
In addition, the Orioles reached a positive run differential — 697-690 — for the first time since June 24.
Boston scored an unearned run in the first inning. Podsednik bunted to the right side and reached second when Flaherty’s throw went wide of first baseman Mark Reynolds. Two batters later, Dustin Pedroia hit a sacrifice fly.
In the bottom half, Nate McLouth singled on Cook’s first pitch and Davis hit a drive into the seats in right. After two singles and a walk loaded the bases, Flaherty sent a 2-1 breaking ball deep into the night for a 6-1 lead.
Successive doubles by Reynolds, Manny Machado and Flaherty, along with an RBI single by Taylor Teagarden, made it 9-1 in the fifth.
NOTES: Orioles C Matt Wieters wasn’t at the ballpark after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Maverick Luther, earlier in the day. … Red Sox CF Jacoby Ellsbury, out since Sept. 20 with an unspecified injury, could return to the lineup as soon as Saturday, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. … Orioles rookie Steve Johnson (4-0) will start on Saturday night against Felix Doubront, who’s got a 2.08 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this year. … The crowd of 33,518 boosted home attendance for the season over 2 million for the first time since 2007. … Cook is 0-3 with an 11.93 ERA in four starts against the Orioles in 2012.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)