After spending the majority of the season's first two months away from Camden Yards, the Orioles' 10-game homestand was their longest so far this year.
And the four-game weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays provided a valuable opportunity to cut the gap between themselves and the American League East division leaders.
Even though it's only the middle of June and more than 90 games remain in the season, the Orioles' series split with the Blue Jays was an opportunity lost.
Following the Orioles' 5-2 loss to Toronto on Sunday — which came in front of an announced sellout of 46,469 — they completed their homestand against the Oakland Athletics, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto with a 5-5 record.
The Orioles (35-33) entered the series 4 1/2 games behind a Blue Jays team that came to town having lost four of its last five games. That same gap remained following the series.
“It's not a missed opportunity because we're going to see these guys [nine] more times throughout the season,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who had two hits Sunday, including his 11th homer of the season. “I think we've got to go there twice, and they come here once. Nine more times. So it's not a missed opportunity. We're going to get back and face our division mid-August and throughout September. So we're going to have our chance again at all our guys in our division.”
Now, the Orioles head out on a six-game road trip to face two more AL East rivals — the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees — hoping to find some offense along the way.
The Orioles scored three or fewer runs six times during the homestand, including the last three games against Toronto. They hit just .217 with runners in scoring position (13-for-60) in the 10 games.
Because of the offense’s inconsistency, the Orioles haven’t been able to take advantage of the team’s revitalized starting rotation, which recorded nine quality starts on the homestand.
“Well, there's two ways to look at it,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “If you go through a little spell and you're not swinging the bats well, your pitching allows you to stay competitive to that point. So, it just depends how you want to look at it. But you'd like to have both of them clicking. But we haven't been able to do that consistently yet.”
Right-hander Chris Tillman gave the Orioles their seventh straight quality start — the club’s starters have a 1.54 ERA over that span — allowing three runs and eight hits in seven innings Sunday. The Orioles' Opening Day starter has thrown back-to-back quality starts for the first time since his second and third starts of the season.
“I think we’re starting to get somewhere,” Tillman said of his past two starts, in which he’s allowed four runs in 13 innings. “I’m starting to feel like my old self. I think I’m making better pitches and feeling more confident in my ability to make a better pitch and command the strike zone. I made some big pitches at times, and I left some balls up.”
But Tillman, who is 0-4 in six home starts this year, allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in four of his first five innings. Three of those runners scored.
The Blue Jays (41-30) jumped on Tillman three batters into the game on Jose Bautista’s run-scoring double, driving in Jose Reyes, who opened the game with a single.
In the fourth, Edwin Encarnacion opened the inning with a double down the left-field line and scored two batters later on an RBI single by Dioner Navarro. Toronto went up 3-0 on Melky Cabrera’s sacrifice fly in the fifth.
“It’s not fun,” Tillman said of allowing three leadoff runners score. “You’ve got to make pitches. As a starting pitcher, you know that. Sometimes you’re able to make pitches and get out of it, and sometimes you’re not. We did make some good pitches that they were able to put good swings on, and at the same time made some bad pitches that they hit hard — right at guys — kind of balanced itself out.”
Meanwhile, Toronto starter J.A. Happ held the Orioles to one run and seven hits in six innings, striking out six batters and walking none. Happ has a 2.08 ERA in two appearances against the Orioles this season and a 0.75 ERA in two career starts at Camden Yards.
“Happ was really good,” Showalter said. “He's always capable of that. And unfortunately, he put together a really good game, established the fastball on both sides, and breaking ball. We had one opportunity early to do some things, but we never really mounted a whole lot off him.”
The Orioles had their best opportunity to break through against Happ in the third inning, when J.J. Hardy hit a leadoff double and Jonathan Schoop reached on an infield single.
But the Orioles couldn’t score as No. 9 hitter Nick Hundley flied out to center and Happ struck out Nick Markakis and Manny Machado to end the inning.
The Orioles scored their only run off Happ with two outs in the sixth inning on Nelson Cruz’s RBI single to center to score Jones, who had reached on a two-out double.
Toronto tacked on two runs in the eighth inning off Tommy Hunter, who issued a leadoff walk to Bautista and a ground-rule double to Encarnacion that hopped over the left-field fence.
The Orioles prevented a run when Hardy fielded a groundball by Brett Lawrie and threw home to get Bautista, the lead runner, at the plate on a play that was challenged by Toronto manager John Gibbons and upheld after a 3-minute, 26-second review.
But Navarro’s bloop double down the right-field line scored one run, and another came in on a fielder’s choice forceout by Steve Tolleson at second after a walk to Erik Kratz loaded the bases.
Hunter has allowed three runs over three innings in three relief appearances since returning from a right groin strain earlier this month.
Jones hit his 11th homer of the season with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, blasting a solo shot down the left-field line off Toronto reliever Dustin McGowan.
In the ninth, the Orioles had Hardy on first base with one out following a bunt single off Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen.
If the Orioles would have brought the tying run to the plate, Showalter likely would have used first baseman Chris Davis as a pinch-hitter. But Jonathan Schoop hit into a force play at second base for the second out and Hundley struck out to end the game.