Don’t compare the intensity of the meetings between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays to the heated rivalry games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox quite yet, but make no doubt that there was no love lost between the teams following the Orioles’ 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon at the Rogers Centre.
The first two games of this series between the Orioles and Blue Jays have been heated, from Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s ejection Friday to the continuing war of words between Orioles reliever Darren O’Day and Toronto slugger Jose Bautista that reached its peak Saturday.
Bautista’s two-run home run off O’Day in the eighth inning of a tied game proved to be the difference Saturday, as the surging Blue Jays (37-36) won their 10th straight game and sent the Orioles (42-33) to just their second series loss in their past 11 series. It also marked just the second time the Orioles have lost back-to-back games since May 20.
The Blue Jays, who were 10 games below .500 at the beginning of June, have a winning record for the first time this year. And with all five teams in the American League East now above .500, the division is as competitive as ever.
Bautista’s home run symbolized the intensity in this series, both because of its impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game and because of what happened immediately after he hit it in front of an announced crowd of 43,261 at Rogers Centre — the Orioles’ largest road crowd of the season.
Seven of the nine games between the two teams this year have been decided by two runs or less, including each of the last four. Saturday’s loss was the Orioles third-straight against the Blue Jays.
On Friday night, O’Day struck out Bautista to end the seventh inning with the go-ahead run on second base in a tied game. After Bautista swung threw a full-count pitch, O’Day pumped his fist in excitement and said something into the air, to which Bautista took offense.
That carried over into Saturday afternoon. As Bautista rounded third base after his homer, he gestured to O’Day with his hand, mimicking a talking mouth. O’Day responded with words of his own.
“I told him just to keep talking like he was yesterday because he kind of ran his mouth a little bit after he struck me out,” Bautista said. “I don't know where that came from, but I didn't appreciate it. I let him know that yesterday, and that's a little reminder today.”
Asked about the exchange, O’Day wouldn’t comment, only saying that it was an intense moment between two competitive players.
“It’s two competitive people competing,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Darren has gotten him some and [Bautista’s] gotten him here and there. [They’re] two very competitive people who are trying to do well for their team. We’re very lucky to have Darren.”
Bautista, who entered the game hitting just .189 in June, said O’Day stared at him coming off the mound Friday and said something to him, which he couldn’t hear through the crowd noise.
“I don't have a problem when pitchers celebrate getting a big out in a big inning,” said Bautista, who is now 3-for-12 against O’Day in his career with three homers and five strikeouts. “But when you're staring at me, yelling stuff, and I can't really hear what you're saying, it upset me a little bit.”
For the second straight game, the Orioles bullpen took the loss. In the past two games in Toronto, Orioles relievers have allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings, including two homers. On Friday night, the Orioles took a 6-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh before losing, 7-6, after Rajai Davis’ walkoff single.
O’Day entered the game holding right-handed hitters to a .123 batting average and had allowed just one earned run in his past 12 outings.
“This team’s playing the best baseball they’ve played all year right now,” O’Day said of the Blue Jays. “They’re definitely a formidable opponent right now. We’ve been in a position to win both nights, and unfortunately, both nights the bullpen has let us down. We know we’re better than that, and we’ve got to be better than that for this team to be good, and we will be better than that.”
Despite being unable to break through against Blue Jays starter Chien-Ming Wang, who allowed one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings, the Orioles tied the game in the top of the eighth on backup catcher Taylor Teagarden’s second home run in his past two games with a solo shot off left-hander Darren Oliver.
Teagarden's homer snapped Toronto bullpen's run of 27 1/3 straight scoreless innings.
Two of Teagarden’s three hits this season are homers. He hit a three-run home run in his last game Wednesday in Detroit.
“The only think I had in my advantage in that at-bat was that I knew Oliver a bit,” Teagarden said. “I’ve had minimal at-bats off him, but I’ve caught him over the years. I’ve hit against him when he was in Anaheim, and I had the feeling he might be coming in on me there. At that point in the game, I’m just trying to get on base and put an easy swing on it.”
For most of the game, an Orioles team that has averaged nearly five runs per game this season was shut down by the 33-year-old Wang, who was signed by the Blue Jays on June 11 after opting out of his minor league deal with the Yankees. Wang has now gone 16 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
“He just creates a great angle,” Showalter said of Wang. “He’s 6-4, 6-5, with a sinker. He has some lateral movement and some downward movement. We hit some balls hard. He did a great job of fielding his position, and they made some good defensive plays.”
Their only run against Wang came in the fifth inning on Travis Ishikawa’s one-out single, which was his first RBI with the Orioles.
The Blue Jays managed just four hits, and Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez held Toronto to three runs and three hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Gonzalez, making his first start since leaving the team for the birth of his first child, made really just one mistake — a first-pitch, two-seam fastball that Maicer Izturis hit over the right-field fence in the fifth to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
The Blue Jays went up, 1-0, in the first inning when a wild pitch from Gonzalez sailed off the mitt of Teagarden and to the backstop, allowing Melky Cabrera to score with two outs.
Gonzalez left the game in the eighth after a one-out single by Munenori Kawasaki. After retiring the first hitter he faced, O’Day battled Bautista through a seven-pitch at-bat until an 80-mph slider found too much of the plate.
“Every at-bat against him is a tough at-bat,” O’Day said. “I made some decent pitches that I thought were close, could have been strikes, didn’t get them, so that makes it exponentially challenging to get him out. It’s no excuse. I made a terrible pitch. If I make a good pitch, he’s probably out. I made a bad pitch, he put a good swing on it. He won the game. I lost us the game."
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