As the regular season winds down, the Orioles insist they aren't sneaking glances to right field for a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard at Camden Yards to see how the division-leading New York Yankees are doing.
Instead, they say their focus must be on the field, where every remaining game is nearly a must-win, not just for the division, but also in an increasingly bunched-up American League wild-card race.
On Tuesday night, they couldn't solve soft-tossing Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Laffey, who threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a 4-0 loss in front of an announced 30,205 at Camden Yards.
Asked if the Orioles are scoreboard watching, center fielder Adam Jones quickly rebutted: "[We're] trying to get more runs on our scoreboard."
Tuesday was the first time the Orioles (88-67) have been shut out in 49 games, since a 2-0 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 3. After beating the Blue Jays six straight times, the Orioles have now lost two straight to Toronto.
After the game, the Orioles received good news, that they remained 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees — who lost, 5-4, in Minnesota — with seven games remaining in the regular season.
The Orioles' hitters were aggressive against Laffey, a Cumberland native who struggled with his control over his last three starts (10 walk over 11 1/3 innings). Laffey avoided a three-ball count until the sixth inning, and had just two two-ball counts up until then.
Mixing a fastball that sat at 83-84 mph and a 77 mph changeup, Laffey kept the Orioles off balance, allowing just five hits and walking none. He induced 11 ground outs and allowed just one baserunner to reach second. Laffey entered the night having been unable to go more than 4 2/3 innings in any of his previous three starts.
"That's how he pitches," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "He's going to mix speeds and try to get you out early and we were making some outs on pitches early in the count. You've got to tip your hat. A guy like that is going to know how to pitch. He definitely pitched well tonight."
For the game, the Orioles managed just six hits, stranded nine base runners and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
"[Our players] understand where they're at and most importantly, they understand how they got here, and they'll continue with that," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "One thing I noticed in the past, you're always going to get everyone's best shot, and when we had been struggling and we'd go into certain venues where there's a good emotion in the ballpark, it feeds the other team as well as us. Sometimes, it can work both ways."
Left-hander Joe Saunders kept the Orioles in the game, despite allowing hits to five of the first eight batters he faced.
Saunders, who allowed 11 hits over 61/3 innings, limited the damage, allowing four runs (three of them earned).
"It's a battle. I didn't feel I had my best stuff, but I feel like I kept my team in the game as best I could," Saunders said. "I think we've played like 100 innings the last five days, so bullpen's pretty burnt up, so I had to go as deep as I could."
Five hitters into the game, the Orioles trailed 1-0 on Yan Gomes' two-out single, scoring Brett Lawrie from second. But the Orioles got out of the inning when Rajai Davis' grounder hit Gomes running to second to end the inning.
Adeiny Hechavarria's two-out double plated another run in the fourth, and the Jays scored two more runs charged to Saunders in the seventh.
J.P. Arencibia led off the inning with a single, and Anthony Gose reached on Manny Machado's fielding error. Two batters later, Colby Rasmus' one-out single scored Arencibia and chased Saunders from the game. Gose scored on Edwin Encarnacion's single to right, but right fielder Chris Davis threw out Rasmus at third.
The Orioles had runners at first and second with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning after Chris Davis' double down the right-field line and a walk to Machado. But University of Maryland product Brett Cecil struck out pinch-hitter Jim Thome on three pitches, and pinch-hitter Ryan Flaherty grounded out to first to end the inning.
The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth against Jays closer Casey Janssen, but Flaherty flew out to center field on the first pitch.
"Right now, winning is the only thing that's going to help us," said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who went 2-for-4. "We know we're going to need to win some games to be able to get in, so we're just going to keep trying to win as many as we can."
Dylan Bundy made his second appearance for the Orioles — the first at home — working a scoreless ninth despite allowing a hit and a walk. L.J. Hoes made his major league debut as a pinch-runner in the bottom of the ninth.