Orioles score twice in first inning, hang on to beat Blue Jays, 2-1, and end slide at six games

Realizing how difficult it’s been for the Orioles to score runs in recent days, when right-hander Kevin Gausman was staked a two-run lead when he first took the mound at the Rogers Centre in the first inning, he treated as if that was all the offense he’d get.

That ended up being the case, but Gausman held up his end, holding the Toronto Blue Jays to one run over seven innings, setting the tone for a 2-1 victory in which the Orioles ended their six-game losing streak and avoided being swept out of Toronto.

“Once we scored those two runs, I told myself, hey, those are your runs, that’s all you’re going to get today,” Gausman said. “And you know, unfortunately, that’s the way it was, but you know, luckily I was able to pound the strike zone and keep mixing my pitches and keep them off balance.”

The Orioles moved back into third place in the American League East but still are 4 1/2 games out in the race for the second American League wild-card spot. There are five teams ahead of them with just 16 games left in the regular season and their road trip taking them to Yankee Stadium — where they’ve lost five of six this season — for a pivotal four-game series in the the Bronx.

Halting their slide was the biggest victory of all, because the Orioles were heading in the wrong direction quickly. And after losing each of the first two games in Toronto by just one run — their past four losses were all decided by one or two runs — the Orioles finally emerged from a close game victorious.

The Orioles (72-74) scored just seven runs in their three games in Toronto, and are averaging just 1.7 runs a game over their past seven contests.

"Yeah, it was great to win a close game like that,” said rookie left fielder Trey Mancini, who had two extra-base hits on the night, including a first-inning RBI triple that put the Orioles up 2-0. “The pitching has been really, really good for us. We know as an offense we need to pick it up a little bit here. But, Kevin did a fantastic job tonight and gave us a chance to win. Luckily we came through with a couple of runs early and did that."

Orioles starting pitchers couldn’t be blamed for this week’s struggles in Toronto. In three games against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, the rotation posted a combined 2.50 ERA.

“It’s that time of year,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You look all over baseball and you all hear me talk a lot about snowball and it takes sometime one game to go the other direction. We’ve been pitching well on this trip. Kevin had an extra day’s rest and thought it helped him.”

And one night after blowing a one-run lead — wasting right-hander Dylan Bundy’s quality start — and losing the game in Tuesday night’s walk-off loss, closer Zach Britton rebounded with a scoreless ninth inning to convert his 14th save in 16 opportunities.

Gausman, was coming off a three-inning outing in his previous start, tied for his shortest nonejection start of the season.

In the first inning, the Orioles took advantage of a throwing error by Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson on the first batter of the game, which allowed leadoff man Tim Beckham to reach base.

Center fielder Adam Jones hit a two-out double past left fielder Teoscar Hernández and off the outfield wall to score Beckham and then scored on Mancini’s triple that missed going over the center-field wall by a few feet.

Gausman worked his way out of trouble magnificently. After allowing an RBI double to Richard Ureña in the second inning, he loaded the bases with one out, but induced a 6-4-3 double play ball to get out of the inning.

He had runners at second and third in the fourth after allowing back-to-back one-out singles and Mancini’s fielding error on the second single put both runners in scoring position. But Gausman induced a 6-3 groundout and flyout to center to emerge unscathed.

And he was able to complete the seventh after allowing a one-out walk to Hernández on his 103rd pitch of the night by getting 6-4-3 double-play ball by Ryan Goins to end the inning.

Gausman pitched effectively with his fastball, getting the Blue Jays to chase up in the zone. Four of his six strikeouts came on fastballs, including three swinging in the upper half of the zone. He got 18 of his 28 strike calls (five swinging and 13 called) with his fastball.

“I felt good,” Gausman said. “Me and [catcher] Caleb [Joseph], we had a really good scouting report on these guys and I’ve had some good games against them this year, so it was more about me pitching toward my strengths and not necessarily their weaknesses. And that’s something I’ve really been focusing on doing more in the second half.”

Take away his previous start — when he allowed five runs over three inning against the Yankees — and Gausman has allowed one or no runs in his three other most recent starts, posting a 0.44 ERA over that span.

Opportunities lost

The Orioles had a chance to break the game open twice against Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman but came away with no runs in either inning.

They loaded the bases against Stroman with no outs in the fourth after Mancini’s leadoff double was followed by back-to-back walks to Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis.

But Stroman needed five more pitches to get out of the inning as slumping right fielder Seth Smith struck out on three pitches, swinging through a slider for strike three, and Joseph hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

The Orioles has two on with one out in the sixth as Stroman battled his control — the team trainer came out to see him after he slouched after throwing a pitch to Davis — but Smith hit into a 4-6-3 double play that ended that threat.

That double play made Smith 0-for-3 on the night and 2-for-23 in nine games in September.

“You know you are not going to get much with Stroman,” Showalter said. “Usually you look up on that error column and the team with the least amount of errors is in the ballgame for sure. But we had bases loaded, nobody out. We had men on second, nobody out and didn’t execute very well there. Usually that bites you.”

Britton rebounds

Britton, who allowed four of the five batters he faced in the ninth inning to reach Tuesday as he allowed two runs in the ninth, was back on the mound and pitched a scoreless ninth.

He worked around a one-out single to Kendrys Morales, getting Kevin Pillar to hit a bouncing ball up the middle. Jonathan Schoop scooped the ball, touched second base and threw to first to complete the Orioles’ third inning-ending double play of the night.

Britton needed just six pitched to earn the save.

“He’s been around this and done this a while,” Showalter said of Britton. “He realizes, you know as much as he got everybody else and having an historic, probably the best year in the history of closers. He knows people are laying in the weeds. He’s made people feel a lot of pain. He doesn’t stop competing. You know, very cognizant of runners. That was fun to watch. But it doesn’t surprise any of us.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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