When the Baltimore Orioles face Toronto for the American League wild-card game Tuesday night, they'll start Chris Tillman, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who has had some wild ups and downs versus the Blue Jays.
Throughout his career, the 28-year-old has struggled through some tough nights against the Jays. In 24 career starts against Toronto, Tillman is 5-10 with a 5.44 earned-run average. Worse, in his 13 starts at Rogers Centre, he's been 2-6 with a 7.01 ERA.
But this year, he's rewritten the narrative dramatically, posting a 3.63 ERA in four starts versus the Jays, including a 2.38 ERA in two starts in Toronto.
There is one especially encouraging stat for the Orioles as they try to win this do-or-die game and advance to the AL Division: In games that Tillman has started against the Jays this season, Baltimore is 4-0.
It is Tillman's turn in the rotation, although the Orioles had to seriously consider starting Dominican righty Ubaldo Jimenez – the team's scalding hot hand of the moment. Jimenez has a 2.45 ERA in his past seven starts, and just tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings to beat the Jays 4-0 last Thursday.
"We've got some people pitching well and we had probably three options, and Chris was one of those good options," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Monday in a press conference after his team's workout in Toronto. "We felt good with any of the three guys pitching, including Dylan [Bundy]. All three might pitch in this game. Just because someone's not starting doesn't mean they can't be impactful."
Despite spending some time on the disabled list in late August with shoulder bursitis, Tillman has been the anchor of Baltimore's unpredictable rotation.
The Californian is 16-6 for the season with a 3.77 ERA. That matches his career high for wins and it's a striking improvement from his 11-11 record in 2015, when his ERA ballooned to 4.99.
Tillman's last start was a no-decision in Toronto on Sept. 28. He neutralized Jays hitters and allowed just two runs (one earned) over 5 2/3 innings in an eventual 3-2 win for the Orioles.
He was digging deep for a bounce-back performance that day; the Boston Red Sox had shelled him six days earlier, driving him from the game in 1 2/3 innings.
But Toronto fans have also witnessed horrendous outings from Tillman against their Jays. In 2015, for instance, he had an 11.72 ERA in his six starts against Toronto, and four of those were recorded as losses for him.
One early September start last year was particularly ugly at the Rogers Centre. He allowed homers to Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista and Kevin Pillar, and the Toronto slugfest chased him from the game early as the Jays rolled to a 10-4 win.
"I've been [in Toronto] when we've been really, really bad; and I've been here when we've played well here," Tillman said on Monday. "You do have to learn how to play in certain places and situations in front of certain fans, and this is a tougher place to play. But we've been playing good baseball here as of late."
The victor of this one-game playoff will advance to the ALDS to play the Texas Rangers, starting Thursday in Arlington.
Tillman faces a team with fresh memories of the playoffs following the Blue Jays' dramatic run to the AL Championship Series a year ago.
However, this is the first wild-card game the Blue Jays have ever played. The Orioles, on the other hand, played in the 2012 AL wild-card game, beating Texas 1-0 to advance to the ALDS, where they were then eliminated by the New York Yankees.
Baltimore last played in the postseason in 2014, sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS before being swept themselves by Kansas City.
Tillman has two career playoff starts in his eight-year Major League Baseball career – both with Baltimore in that 2014 run. He was 1-0 in those games, and posted a 6.75 ERA.
He faces Toronto on an extra day's rest following the one-day break for both AL wild card teams on Monday.
"Chris came off a real good work day," Showalter said. "This time of year, if you can give a guy a little extra time, you usually get rewarded for it."