Saturday, August 13, 2011
Chris Tillman, 2010 Topps 206 #156
Michele is a well-traveled graduate student whose research has brought her to Baltimore for the next year. Her previous places of residence have included Philadelphia, Boston, Vermont, and Seattle, and while I'm sure that each of those places has its own charms, none of them have the finest baseball stadium in the country. This was to be Michele's first visit to Camden Yards, and I was glad to be her host. We had time for one drink before my sister Liz and cousin Brittany called to let me know that they'd made it to the ballpark, and would be waiting for us by the ticket windows at the front gates. We found a rack to secure Michele's bike (bicycling enthusiast Jeremy Guthrie would be proud), purchased some upper reserve seats (as well as my complimentary birthday ticket), and collected our free and very orange Jake Arrieta t-shirts. In true Orioles fashion, these shirts were given away the day before the young pitcher had season-ending elbow surgery.
As it was a Thursday home game, there were O's alumni signing autographs on the concourse. The guests of honor were Paul Blair, Dan Ford, and Bill Swaggerty. Since I had a guest and I already have Blair and Swaggerty's signatures, I bypassed their booth. I'll catch you some other time, Disco Danny.
We made it to the upper deck, purchased some fine cuisine (hot dogs, chicken tenders, and fries covered in Old Bay), and took our seats with plenty of time to spare before first pitch. After all of that salty food, I was ready for another beer, but my dear sister and cousin had taken off in search of ice cream, leaving me to watch their bags. When they finally returned, it was almost time for the game to start, but Michele and I went to fetch drinks anyhow. If I was going to miss some game action, I figured I'd skip Chicago's first ups. Fewer good things can happen when the Birds are on defense, especially this season. We had to go all the way to the street-level concourse to find a stand selling mixed drinks (Michele has a gluten allergy that puts beer off-limits). As we waited to be served, I glanced at a flat-screen TV broadcasting the game, and had the pleasure of seeing Chris Tillman serve up a two-run homer to Alexei Ramirez. Two batters equaled a 2-0 deficit for the home team.
It was 4-0 by the time we got back to the nosebleed seats, with young Tillman having yet to retire any of the first five Pale Hose hitters. Michele remarked that the game would be a long one at that rate, but I assured her that opposing starter Mark Buehrle would make quick work of the O's. Baltimore got out of the inning without further damage, but Tillman was not long for the game. He was chased after two and two-thirds innings with the club in a 6-0 hole. This has been a disturbing habit for Chris, who has failed to complete 5 innings in 6 of 13 starts this year. Liz and Brittany had seen enough, wandering off to the team store for a diversion.
Showing impeccable timing, my family members missed the only Oriole highlights of the game in the bottom of the third inning. Buehrle had retired the first seven hitters before Nolan Reimold crushed a ground-rule double to right-center field. He scored two batters later on a single by the cyborg known as J. J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis capped the outburst by driving the first pitch he saw onto the flag court for his 100th career home run. The blast measured in at 390 feet, but I've rarely witnessed a ball with such an impressive trajectory. He blasted a hanging fastball, and there was truly no doubt that it was gone.
I didn't see the other half of my group until the fifth inning, at which point Michele and I took our leave of section 330 for a second round of drinks. This time we wound up at the Natty Boh Bar on the first level, and just as I was asking myself why I'd ever spend $7.50 on the cheapest brew in town, the bartender asked us where we were sitting. We told him, even though we were unsure of his reason for asking. He then handed us two tickets for section 26, telling us that we'd just been upgraded. That's one way to earn a generous tip!
After informing Liz of our whereabouts, Michele and I found our new seats, five rows behind the Orioles dugout. It was an incredible vantage point for a fairly unremarkable conclusion to the game, as Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, and Mike Gonzalez combined for six and a third innings of shutout relief. Buehrle likewise kept the O's off the scoreboard for the fourth through eighth innings, and Sergio Santos whiffed two batters in a perfect ninth for the save. The only real fireworks came from the younger guys sitting behind us, who heckled the erratic Gonzalez mercilessly.
Now here are some photos from my crappy iPhone camera to play us out.