The Orioles realize that their chase of the New York Yankees for the American League East title has little room for error, especially as their regular season whittles down to just eight games.
Their opportunities to overcome the Yankees — who have withstood the surging Orioles — shrink by the day. But Monday offered a rare chance for the Orioles to gain a half-game on New York if they could have swept their single-admission doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Backed by a strong spot start from rookie right-hander Steve Johnson and four hits from Adam Jones, the Orioles won the opening game 4-1, but they couldn't take advantage of numerous scoring opportunities in the nightcap and were dealt a frustrating loss, 9-5.
The Orioles (88-66) have won seven of their last 9 and 10 of their past 14, but the doubleheader split dropped them to 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees, who beat the Minnesota Twins, 6-3, on Monday night.
"You have to expect those guys to win," right fielder and designated hitter Chris Davis said of the Yankees. "You don't want to bank on another team losing, but I think the biggest thing for us is to keep going out there and give ourselves a chance to win every game.
"We have enough on our plate going out here every night and trying to pull out a win. It's really tough to scoreboard watch during the game. After the game, obviously it's hard to see those guys keep winning, but you have to expect it. Our job is to go out there and keep winning."
The Orioles stranded the bases loaded in three innings in Game 2 Monday, unable to take advantage of the wildness of Blue Jays left-hander Ricky Romero. They stranded 10 baserunners overall in the nightcap.
Meanwhile, Orioles pitchers allowed three Toronto homers, the dagger being catcher J.P. Arencibia's grand slam with two outs in the seventh inning off reliever Jake Arrieta.
"We played a good first game and had our chances in the second game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "[We] did some good things pitching-wise, just not enough of them. [It's] very hard to sweep a doubleheader in the major leagues. That's why when you get a rainout you try to play, because you know the challenge ahead of you somewhere down the line."
Arrieta — the Orioles' Opening Day starter, who had been pitching well in the bullpen — kept the Orioles close in the sixth. With the O's trailing 5-3, he entered with runners at the corners and no outs and went on to strike out the side with a filthy mix of breaking balls and mid-90s fastballs.
The next inning, he allowed three singles to load the bases with nobody out. He nearly escaped again. Mark Reynolds made a nice play at first to snag Moises Sierra's grounder and throw home for the force, and Omar Vizquel popped up behind third base.
But then Arencibia crushed a 2-1 slider into the left-field stands, sending many of the announced 31,015 at Camden Yards to the exits.
"He'll tell you he wishes he had done a better job of not creating that situation, but he came in a pretty no-win situation and punched out three guys and was a pitch away from getting us back in the dugout again," Showalter said of Arrieta. "I'm proud of his effort. Jake's competing and Arencibia's a good hitter. Just made a mistake to him out over the plate. We had a tough time keeping the ball in the ballpark the second game."
The Orioles battled back from a 4-0 deficit. Robert Andino's two-run single in the second cut the lead to two, but the Orioles stranded the bases loaded on J.J. Hardy's line-out to center.
They had the bases loaded again in the fifth after Nate McLouth led off the inning with an opposite-field homer to left. Jones (6-for-9 on the day) hit a one-out double and Romero issued back-to-back walks to Reynolds and Manny Machado with two down before Endy Chavez grounded a 1-0 pitch to first base to end the inning.
The backbreaker, however, was in the sixth. The Orioles trailed 5-3 after Sierra's solo homer in the top of the inning. Hardy's one-out, bases-loaded RBI single cut the lead to one, but Taylor Teagarden was thrown out at the plate by Anthony Gose after tagging on Davis' flyout to left.
"Anytime you strand guys on base you know it's a missed opportunity," Davis said. "Coming up with guys on base, you've got to get the job done. You can't make excuses. I was in a position tonight to do the same thing. Obviously it didn't work out. The beauty of it is that we play again tomorrow."
Despite trailing by five, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth against Casey Janssen, but Reynolds grounded into a double-play — a run scored on the play — and Machado struck out to end the game.
Wei-Yin Chen (5 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) struggled early in the second game, allowing four runs in his first two innings. He's now 0-3 with a 5.90 ERA in five September starts.
Johnson, a St. Paul's grad making his first start in a month, set the tone in Game 1, throwing five shutout innings. Johnson held the Blue Jays to three hits — all singles — while striking out six and walking three.
It was the 25-year-old rookie's third major league start, and his first since Aug. 25, when he held the Jays to two runs on four hits over six innings.
"I had real good stuff. I just wasn't able to command the ball that well at least for the first couple innings," Johnson said. "I was able to minimize the damage and put a couple zeros up there. You knew if you keep doing that, we have the type of team that is just going to put up runs at some point."
Jones hit his 32nd homer of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth inning that gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in that first game. Twenty of Jones' 32 homers this season have either tied the game or put the Orioles ahead. He added three singles for his second four-hit game of the season, tying a season high set June 12 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rookie Ryan Flaherty hit a solo homer in the fifth, a ball that landed in the Orioles' bullpen in left-center field.
The Blue Jays scored a run in the eighth on Rajai Davis' two-out RBI double off Tommy Hunter. But with two on and the tying run at the plate, right-hander Darren O'Day struck out Kelly Johnson swinging to end the threat.
Closer Jim Johnson extended his single-season club save mark to 48 with a scoreless ninth, ending the game by striking out Gose.