BALTIMORE -- As good as Chris Tillman was on Sunday in outdueling Tigers ace Justin Verlander, you could make the case he was better on Friday night, going eight dominant innings and holding Toronto to three singles.
But the defense let him down. An Oriole club that tied Kansas City in 2013 for the most Gold Glove finalists -- but is currently missing key infielders J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado -- slogged through an error-ridden fourth inning that doomed it in Friday's series-opening 2-0 loss to Toronto.
"Through the years, when you look out on that column that says error, if you're leading that one on the bad side of it, you usually don't like your chances," said manager Buck Showalter, whose club had just 10 multi-error games en route to setting a new defensive record in 2013. "When you play at this level there's a fine margin of error. We just had two or three things we didn't execute and they really get magnified in a game that both pitchers pitched that well."
Tillman, tagged with the loss, deserved much better. The 25-year-old retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced and didn't allow an earned run, but watched his 104-pitch effort go to waste in an uncharacteristic display from the Orioles.
Things got started in the fateful fourth inning when rookie Jonathan Schoop -- at third base in Machado's absence -- overthrew the first-base bag to put Jose Bautista on as a one-out runner. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a single and Adam Lind reached on a force attempt in which Schoop, trying to go to second base, saw his second throw of the frame sail wide to plate a run.
"I threw it away," said Schoop, who had no excuses and didn't need to elaborate further. "I wish I played better defense for Tillman. He pitched a great game. I'll learn from it; be better tomorrow."
Tillman should have gotten out of the jam there, as he induced a tailor-made double play ball from Dioner Navarro, but shortstop Ryan Flaherty -- playing in place of Hardy -- fielded the throw from second and his throw to first skipped past Tillman covering the bag. The miscue, which wasn't officially charged as an error, allowed a second run across.
"It could have happened early on in the game when I was missing and we wouldn't even be talking about it," Tillman said of the errors behind him. "I trust these guys day in and day out and I think, like I said, it's baseball. Those things happen."
And they're magnified when there's no offense to speak of. An Oriole lineup that scored a combined 19 runs in its previous two games made a lot of loud outs, but had nothing to show for it off Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan, who picked up his first Major League victory since 2008. The 32-year-old righty, making his second start since 2011 due to injuries, scattered five hits including several balls that made their way to the warning track.
Could perhaps the O's have had a different fate on a humid July night?
"I don't know," said center fielder Adam Jones, who was one of several players that just missed sending the ball out of the ballpark. "We don't live in the words of 'what ifs,' that's your guys' business. So, it's April 11 and the ball ain't flying."
"Some days those fall on the warning track," Showalter said. "But it was a testament to their stuff. They didn't quite allow us to square it up all the way and get through it. But there's a fine line there."
The Orioles missed a chance to get on the board off McGowan in the fifth inning, with a pair of two-out singles from Nick Markakis and Delmon Young starting a mini-rally. Chris Davis lined a ball into right field and Markakis -- who looked like he was going to score -- came halfway down the third base line before he was signaled back to the bag by third base coach Bobby Dickerson. Jones flied out with the bases loaded to keep the O's scoreless.
Flaherty was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the seventh, but Schoop flied out and reliever Brett Cecil -- who replaced McGowan after the first out -- struck out Markakis and Young to end the inning. The Orioles went 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight on the night.
"Tillman was outstanding, we just caught a couple breaks with the errors, and that's what it takes sometimes," Toronto's manager John Gibbons said. "There wasn't a lot of hits on either side."
While Tillman suffered greatly from the defensive miscues behind him, he never let it shake his composure on the mound and picked up six strikeouts in his impressive outing. The Orioles' Opening Day starter, Tillman lowered his ERA to 0.84 through his first three games of the season, but said Friday's start wasn't as easy as it looked.
"It was a struggle early," he said. "I just couldn't get into a rhythm early on. Was fighting myself to make the adjustments. Luckily we were able to make them a little later in the game and hats off to Matty [Wieters] for hanging with me. He was sitting with me between innings, we were talking. We were able to figure it out fortunately."
In another scenario, Showalter said Tillman would have had an opportunity to finish the game. Instead, relievers Zach Britton and Ryan Webb pitched the ninth, leaving Tillman with an unusual line and the continued awe of his teammates.
"I told him after the game, that was one of the best I've ever seen Tillman throw to be honest with you," Jones said. "Obviously they've got a good lineup, they've got some thump over there and he threw the ball tremendous. His first three starts going into the season have been really, really strong. That's why he's the ace on our staff right now."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.