The Orioles' three early-season wins over the Toronto Blue Jays have been decided by a total of four runs. So, even though the Orioles are playing a key role in the Blue Jays' turmoil, it has been a fine line between victory and defeat.

While a heap of credit for the 2-1 series-opening win over the Blue Jays should go to right-hander Kevin Gausman, who had his best start of the season, and a bullpen that bent but didn't break in three scoreless innings, it's easy to overlook the defensive plays the Orioles made that made a difference.

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Three batters into the game, third baseman Manny Machado made a difficult play look routine – as he usually does – stepping in on a sharp grounder off the bat of Josh Donaldson while Donaldson's broken bat came toward him.

"Manny made that play with Donaldson's bat," Gausman said. "Some guys see that play and are a little confused seeing the bat come out there, but it was a bang-bang play at first. I'm happy it went our way for sure."

Gausman was the recipient of another fine defensive play to end the second inning. With a runner on first with one out, shortstop J.J. Hardy – who took much of the blame for the Orioles' defensive miscues in Tuesday's ugly loss at Fenway Park – corralled a Russell Martin grounder up the middle and in one motion, tossed it to second baseman Jonathan Schoop from his glove to start a 6-4-3 double play.

"Obviously when J.J. makes a play like that it only helps you," Gausman said. "… But they put together some really good at-bats and the biggest thing was my defense played great."

Fast forward to the ninth inning, when the Orioles played the infield in with runners at second and third with one out. Kevin Pillar hit a chopper to Hardy, and even though closer Zach Britton charged it, he retreated at the last minute, allowing Hardy to cleanly field it and throw to first for the out. Both base runners held their ground, in part because they didn't know where the play was going to go. Even though it wasn't by design, it might have helped save a run.

"You don't think that during the game," Britton said of the strategy. "You're reacting. I was just making sure I didn't deflect the ball away from J.J., so I got my hand out of the way."

Also, catcher Welington Castillo deserved kudos for handling Britton in the ninth. Even though a wild pitch allowed both base runners to move into scoring position before the final at-bat of the game, two Britton pitches to Steve Pearce pulled Castillo out of the crouch, but the Orioles backstop remained steady.

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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