Steve Pearce hits two home runs as Orioles sweep Blue Jays with 6-1 win
By By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 17, 2014 | 11:53 PM
The sweet smell of celebration -- an odorous combination of champagne and beer -- still lingered inside the home clubhouse of Camden Yards one day after the Orioles wrapped up the American League East title.
Backed by a two-homer game from Steve Pearce, there was no hangover Wednesday night as the Orioles swept the second-place Toronto Blue Jays with a 6-1 victory in front of an announced 37,537 giving the club its 10th win in the last 11 games.
"That's what we do," Pearce said of returning strong the day after clinching the division. "We kind of flush everything out. We win a ballgame, we come back out. If we lose, we come back and find ways to win. I mean we've been like this all year."
The Orioles posted their first three-game sweep of the Blue Jays since April 24-26, 2012.
Pearce, who launched a three-run homer in the first inning of the Orioles' 8-2 division-clinching win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night, added to his breakout season Wednesday with the second multihomer game in his career. He also hit two home runs June 30 against the Texas Rangers.
After he was reluctantly designated for assignment in April, then declined an optional waiver claim from the Blue Jays and eventually re-signed with the Orioles, Pearce has been one of the team's best hitters recently. In his last 10 games, he is hitting .424 with eight extra-base hits (four doubles and four home runs) and 11 RBIs.
On a team heavy on power -- the Orioles (92-60) hit three homers Wednesday, lead the major leagues with 199 and likely will record three consecutive 200-homer seasons for the first time in club history -- Pearce has hit 20 homers this season. That's the fourth-most on the team, after he hit 17 total homers in parts of seven major league seasons before this year.
After taking Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ (9-11) deep for a solo homer that landed just inside the left-field foul pole in the third inning, Pearce blasted a 1-1 pitch from Happ over the 364-foot sign in left-center field for his 20th homer of the season in the fifth.
"At the beginning of the year, I didn't think it could happen, [that] it would be possible," Pearce said about hitting 20 homers. "It's been a great year. It's not over yet."
David Lough finished the Orioles' scoring with his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot that hit the base of the right-field foul pole in the eighth.
First baseman Christian Walker, one of the club's top position-player prospects, made his major league debut Wednesday after joining the club earlier in the day.
Walker, the organization's minor league player of the year, received a standing ovation as he was introduced for his first at-bat and also after hitting a double down the left-field line in the seventh inning for his first major league hit.
"It's awesome," Walker said. "It's a relief to get that first one out of the way, for sure. Hopefully it's the first of many."
A day after clinching the division, cornerstone players Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Nelson Cruz all played. Nick Markakis received a day off as Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the team will try to chase the AL's best record while staggering rest for players down the stretch.
Tension between the teams simmered throughout the series after Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman threw a pitch near Caleb Joseph's head on Monday night, an act that drew a six-game suspension that was handed down Wednesday.
Both benches were warned in all three games. On Wednesday, Toronto right-hander Aaron Sanchez came in high and tight on Pearce, knocking him to the ground, after hitting Jonathan Schoop earlier in the inning.
Given what his team has already achieved -- and the postseason possibilities that loom ahead -- Showalter is sensitive about how quickly he could lose a player on one wild pitch.
"I try to look at the reality," Showalter said. "That kid [Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron] Sanchez, started in Dunedin this year, emotional, I don't think he was throwing at anybody, but still it doesn't make anybody happy. Stevie almost wore one. To hit those type of guys, you have to get over the plate and cheat a little bit with the barrel head now and then. We dodged another bullet.
"It's just a reminder, 162 games, how many things, just one pitch, it's so fragile, being so close to these guys, getting a chance, there are times when you're just trying to get through a game with everybody healthy."
Despite issuing a season-high five walks, Orioles right-hander Bud Norris tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings to earn his sixth win over his last seven decisions.
Norris (14-8) allowed the leadoff runner on base in five of the six innings he started -- including three leadoff walks in that span -- but he still held a struggling Toronto lineup scoreless.
He faced his toughest challenge in the second inning, allowing a leadoff double to Adam Lind and issuing a one-out walk to Munenori Kawasaki. Both runners advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, but Norris recovered to strike out Josh Thole and induce a flyout from Ryan Goins to escape the inning.
Norris has won his last eight decisions against AL East competition, and the Orioles are 12-1 in his 13 division starts this season. He has an 8-1 record and 2.72 ERA in those starts. Norris improved to 4-0 with a 2.36 ERA in six career outings against the Blue Jays.
"I tried to get as much sleep as I could," Norris said about pitching the day after a raucous celebration Tuesday. "I was still pretty excited and everything else, tried to get some rest and just come to the ballpark, kind of go through the routine. We've already clinched, but I want to go out there and do my part and keep auditioning for the postseason."
The Blue Jays (77-74), already five games out of the second AL wild-card spot entering the night, sputtered offensively throughout the series. They scored just five runs in three games and were 5-for-37 (.135) with runners in scoring position, including 1-for-12 on Wednesday.