Birds' battery enjoys Jeter's experience
Tillman, Moeller appreciate the historic moment
NEW YORK -- They had the most unpopular job in the building.
Baltimore's starting battery of Chris Tillman and Chad Moeller had the difficult responsibility of trying to keep Derek Jeter from making history on Friday night, a task they relished for as long as it lasted. And though they weren't able to hold Jeter hitless, Tillman and Moeller were able to enjoy the experience at Yankee Stadium.
New York's shortstop entered the game just shy of passing Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig for the most hits in franchise history, and Tillman and Moeller were standing in his way. The batterymates were able to stop Jeter in the first inning, but the 10-time All-Star singled up the right-field line in the third to set the record.
"For Derek, that was pretty cool," said Moeller after his team's 10-4 win. "It's actually fun to be on the field for something like that. I'm definitely happy for him, and the humility that guy has consistently is awesome. But for us, it was a great game. It makes it a little tougher for him, because he doesn't get to enjoy it the same way."
Tillman, who had never pitched against the Yankees, went into the game with an extra shot of adrenaline and a little bit of apprehension. The right-handed rookie said that Moeller helped talk him through some of his nerves, but it couldn't have helped that Jeter was the first Yankee to stride into the batter's box against him.
The stadium was electric for that first at-bat, with flashes popping all over the field. But Tillman had the last laugh, as he battled back and struck out the former first-round draftee on a tailing curveball.
"That was a huge at-bat," said Tillman. "We talked about what we wanted to do with first pitch. You know that he obviously wants that hit. I threw a curveball first pitch, and I wasn't comfortable doing that. I've never done that in my life. I ended up throwing a pretty good breaking ball that he swung at. Thank God. I think it was a ball."
"For the most part, we were trying just to stay away from him," added Moeller. "That's his strength, but it's also Tillman's strength, that side of the plate. We were just going to match it up and see what happened."
Tillman walked the next batter and wound up giving up a three-run homer in the first inning before righting himself. And when he faced Jeter the next time, there was one out and nobody on base. Tillman fell behind, then he threw an outside fastball that Jeter lashed up the line and out of the reach of first baseman Luke Scott.
"Another fastball, but it was up in the zone more," said Moeller. "Derek's a great hitter, and I wanted him to do something, not us pitch around him. We'll take the odds that the ball's going to go right at somebody."
"He got me," added Tillman. "I was behind, threw a fastball and he put a pretty good swing on that pitch. I'm happy for him. Obviously, I didn't want for him to do it against me, but I'll shake his hand at the end of the day."
To do that, he'll have to stand in a fairly long line. Jeter raised his helmet exultantly after hit No. 2,722, and he acknowledged the raucous crowd more than once. The entire home dugout spilled out to congratulate him at first base, and the game was delayed for a few minutes while the fans showered him with adulation.
Nick Swisher, the Yankees' No. 2 hitter, took his time getting back in the box, allowing the ovation to echo longer and louder. But instead of getting frustrated, Tillman seemed to instinctively understand the moment.
"I knew it was going to happen," Tillman said. "It was a special moment for him. I was going to give him all the time in the world, too. He deserves it. He did a great job tonight. He isn't the Yankees' all-time hit leader for nothing."
Perhaps nobody summed up the evening better than manager Dave Trembley, who has seen a few too many Yankees highlights at his team's expense. This one, he said, was well worth remembering.
"Jeter is part of Yankee history now. That's the bottom line," said Trembley, a longtime student of the game. "Jeter is at the top of the list in Yankee history for the most hits. He deserves it. He's represented himself and the Yankees in the classiest way possible, and the fans love him. And deservedly so."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.