After seeing starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez limp off the field with a right groin strain in the sixth inning Sunday afternoon, the Orioles were able to finally grind out a win fitting of a playoff contender with their 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
The Orioles -- held without a hit after the fourth inning -- overcame several obstacles in front of an announced 22,331, receiving 3 2/3 scoreless innings from their bullpen and holding an early lead created by the game’s only hit in 17 combined at-bats with runners in scoring position between the two teams.
The win gave the Orioles a series win in Toronto to open their 10-game road trip. They'll travel to Boston to open a three-game series against the Red Sox on Tuesday following their final off day of the season.
“You can’t get into ratios of two out of three,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You’ve just got to win baseball games, and today we scored more than they did in 27 outs, so we get on the plane and try to get through customs and watch it rain in Boston tomorrow.”
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles (79-70) now trail both American League wild-card spots by 2 1/2 games in an increasingly tight playoff picture. Six contenders for the two wild-card spots are separated by 3 1/2 games heading into the final two weeks of the season.
The Orioles -- and their playoff hopes -- suffered two scares on Sunday. Not only did Gonzalez leave the game in the sixth after grimacing following a called strike-three pitch to Adam Lind, but left fielder Nate McLouth exited in the top of the ninth when he was hit on the outside of the right knee by a 94-mph fastball from Kyle Drabek.
Gonzalez, who has pitched 158 1/3 innings this year in his first full major league season, was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain. Showalter said the right-hander is in jeopardy of missing his next start, but Gonzalez was optimistic he could pitch in his next turn in the rotation.
“I thought I was feeling pretty good, but it tightened up a little bit, so I thought, ‘You know what? Better to get out and get ready for the next one,’” Gonzalez said.
McLouth said X-rays on his knee were negative, and he expects to be available Tuesday in Boston.
“It was just strange because it went numb,” McLouth said. “I don’t know why it did that, but there’s not a lot there. It’s not like getting hit in the hand where there’s a lot of little bones, so I wasn’t too worried about anything like that. I think I’ll just be sore for a day. It’s nice that we have a day off tomorrow.”
The Orioles ended their series in Toronto just 7-for-30 -- a .233 average -- with runners in scoring position and were 1-for-8 on Sunday, but their one hit was their biggest.
Hot-hitting Orioles designated hitter Danny Valencia, who entered the afternoon hitting .380 against left-handed pitchers this season, hit a two-out, two-run double to left field off Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead in the third inning.
“Any time you get a hit with runners in scoring position, especially with two outs, it’s huge,” Valencia said. “The at-bat before that, I left two on in the same situation, so it was nice to come through there. ... I knew he was going to try to get me to roll it over, and he threw a changeup, and fortunately for me, he left it up. And I was able to hit it over the first baseman’s head.”
The Orioles added another run in the fourth when Chris Davis drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk, Buehrle’s third walk of the game.
A superb collective patchwork pitching performance overshadowed more offensive struggles from the Orioles.
The Orioles were outhit by Toronto, 10-6. Following Davis' bases-loaded walk, Blue Jays pitchers retired the next 14 Orioles batters before McLouth was hit by a pitch to lead off the ninth.
The Orioles also did not have a hit after Brian Roberts’ one-out double in the fourth.
Despite relying almost exclusively on his fastball, Gonzalez held the Blue Jays (68-81) to one run and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. Gonzalez made one mistake on the day, a first-pitch hanging curveball to Lind that he sent into the second deck of the right-field stands in the second inning, giving the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.
After Gonzalez threw his final pitch, Showalter and head trainer Richie Bancells ran to the mound, and Gonzalez was removed from the game without throwing any warmup pitches. Gonzalez walked off the field with a slight limp, but the Orioles bullpen -- well rested after Chris Tillman pitched an eight-inning complete-game in Saturday’s loss -- preserved the lead.
“That’s part of the game,” said right-hander Tommy Hunter, who retired all four batters he faced in relief. “Unfortunately, [Gonzalez] did come out and you never want to see that. We have to win some games. It’s coming down to that point. He gave us what he could and we took it from there.”
After replacing Gonzalez, rookie right-hander Kevin Gausman allowed a single to the first batter his faced, Moises Sierra, and walked Rajai Davis, but he was able to work out of the sixth-inning jam by striking out Ryan Goins and J.P Arencibia.
The Orioles received a bit of luck in the seventh inning when, with a runner on first base, the Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion laced a ball down the right-field line off Francisco Rodriguez that bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. With two outs, if the ball had remained in play, a run surely would have scored to cut the Orioles lead to one.
Instead, it put runners at second and third. The Orioles intentionally walked Lind and Hunter struck out Sierra to end the inning.
After Hunter retired Toronto in order in the eighth, closer Jim Johnson recorded his league-leading 45th save with a scoreless ninth despite allowing a leadoff single to No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose. Johnson struck out Encarnacion to end the game with a runner on third.
“It’s big,” Hunter said of the win. “It takes us into that Boston series with a series victory. We have quite a task ahead of us. We’re looking forward to it.”
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