TORONTO – Games like the Orioles' 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Thursday night's series finale at Rogers Centre are ones that the club will have to win as the season winds down and the playoff chase heats up.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter put it well when he said that his team was able to take advantage of the one mistake Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ made -- a 2-0 fastball that catcher Caleb Joseph hit over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.
"He had kind of blown me away the first at-bat," Joseph said. "He's got a good fastball. It's sneaky. It's 92-93 [mph], but it feels like about 95. Late life. You saw a lot of guys have some trouble today. He's a good pitcher. I was just fortunate to get some barrel on it."
Otherwise, Happ was masterful. In the final two games of the series, Toronto starters allowed just three runs in 16 2/3 innings. But the Orioles still escaped Canada with a series win, their fourth straight on the road and sixth consecutive overall.
The Orioles are now 24-17 in one-run games this season and have won seven of their last nine one-run games. We only need to look back to 2012 to see how important being on the winning end of those close games matters.
And, obviously, a Blue Jays lineup without injured sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind -- both of whom are Orioles killers -- doesn't strike quite as much fear into opposing pitchers.
But give the Orioles pitching a lot of credit for this win, which gave the club a five-game lead over the Blue Jays and the New York Yankees as they enter a weekend interleague series against the St. Louis Cardinals tonight.
Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez struggled early with his offspeed stuff Thursday, but he managed to compensate by being able to pinpoint his fastball to both sides of the plate. The only mistake he made was a solo homer to Anthony Gose in the fifth inning.
"He did a great job mixing the fastball in and out and kind of sticking with the scouting report and trying to attack weaknesses," Joseph said of Gonzalez. "That's just the way you're going to get through a long season like this. You've really got to be able to damage control at certain times.
"Their guy had really good stuff, so we knew going into it that runs were going to be at a premium. [Gonzalez] did a good job of giving us a chance to win and then passing it on to the bullpen which has been so good for us this year."
Gonzalez said he knew early that it would be tough for the Orioles to score from the way Happ was pitching -- he struck out a career-high 12 and retired the final 14 batters he faced -- but he rose to the challenge in a close game.
"You never know what's going to happen out there as soon as you let go of that baseball," Gonzalez said. "I think having a 2-1 ballgame definitely gets me a little more focused and under control to make better pitches and not try to do too much."
And then give credit to the bullpen.
Left-hander Andrew Miller was downright filthy in retiring three left-handed batters on just 11 pitches in the seventh.
Darren O'Day overcame a questionable ball-four call on Jose Bautista with two outs in the eighth that might have rattled other pitchers. But O'Day was able to record a scoreless eighth and now has allowed just one run in his last 19 appearances (21 1/3 innings).
And closer Zach Britton needed just 14 pitches to retire the Blue Jays in the ninth. His spike got stuck as he came off the mound attempting to cover first base on the final out of the game, and Britton was visibly limping as he left the field. But he said after the game that he had just slightly tweaked his ankle and would be fine.
"It was big," Britton said of the pitching. "Andrew did a good job and Darren just continues to do what he's been doing all year. It's been really fun to watch. He just sets up that inning and makes it a lot easier on me.
"Miguel threw the ball great, battled for us, gave us a really great outing. Happ was outstanding. It was just bad luck on his part. He pitched an outstanding game, but I think we were able to get to him a little bit."