Zach Britton stranded the winning run on second base in the ninth inning Thursday night, walking a tightrope through a wild final frame. But he still managed to convert his 53rd straight save opportunity in the Orioles’ 2-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles closer allowed a one-out single to Troy Tulowitzki and then walked Russell Martin before both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.
Britton induced a weak groundout from Kevin Pillar — a ball that Britton pursued but retreated on because shortstop J.J. Hardy had a play at first — to keep the runners idle. Britton then got former Oriole Steve Pearce to fly out to center for the final out.
“Been there enough to where it’s been easy, it’s been hard,” Britton said. “I know that if I just make a pitch, I can get out of it. So that is really all I’m thinking about. It’s been a little easier obviously the more experience I get. But you’re one pitch away most of the time and you just have to keep that in your mind.
“I think you just slow the game down. You don’t make it a bigger deal than it is. A rollover through the hole from Tulowitzki. So, OK, ground ball. Close pitch to Martin. Good at-bat by him. So just make a pitch.”
The save was Britton’s fourth of the season and gives him the third-longest consecutive saves streak in baseball history, trailing only Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).
For the second time in this young season, Britton had to retire lefty masher Pearce with the game on the line. Britton converted his first save of the season on April 5 by getting Pearce to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded to seal a 3-1 win.
“I’ve seen him hit quite a bit now and faced him quite a bit now,” Britton said. “He hits lefties well, so make good pitches. He had a good at-bat right there, got a ball elevated; just hit a ball right at [center fielder Adam Jones].”
The Orioles (6-2) tossed three scoreless innings in relief of starter Kevin Gausman, who allowed one run on five hits. Darren O’Day, coming off back-to-back rocky outings, tossed a perfect seventh and right-hander Brad Brach retired all three batters he faced in the eighth.
Lefty improvement: One of the Orioles’ offseason priorities was improving against left-handed pitching, and facing Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano on Thursday in their first game at Rogers Centre since last year’s American League wild-card game offered a quick reminder.
It was then, with Liriano in the game, that Orioles manager Buck Showalter turned to Ubaldo Jimenez instead of Britton in the 11th inning, playing for the long haul in a game that soon ended on Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off homer that inning.
Over the season’s opening days, the Orioles have faced their share of lefties, with Liriano the fourth left-handed starter in eight games.
While it’s a small sample size, the Orioles have done just enough damage against lefties while fielding a batting order with more platoon bats, but it’s far from a marked improvement.
That was the case Thursday. All four left-handed starters have thrown quality starts against the Orioles — Liriano (6 2/3 innings, two earned runs, five hits, two walks, 10 strikeouts) and J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Drew Pomeranz before him.
The Orioles scraped up just enough offense against Liriano, producing some timely hitting in the fifth inning on run-scoring hits by second baseman Jonathan Schoop and Hardy.
Schoop slugging: After going 2-for-19 in his first six games, Schoop had his second straight multihit game Thursday with a pair of doubles.
Schoop had the Orioles’ first hit of the night against Liriano with a one-out double in the third and then followed back-to-back singles by Welington Castillo and Trey Mancini in the fifth with an RBI double.
Castillo scored on the play, but Mancini was thrown out at home.
“There wasn’t much margin for error today and Jon squared a ball up,” Showalter said. “Liriano didn’t make many mistakes. There was such a small margin for error and most times you are not going to come out on the winning end of a game the way Liriano was pitching. But Kevin was a tad better.”
Hardy followed with an RBI single to score Schoop, capping a run of four straight hits off Liriano to lead off the inning. The Orioles entered the fifth with just one hit off Liriano.
Gentry struggles: Craig Gentry, one of the club’s platoon additions to play against left-handed pitching, made his third start in the past four games and was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
Gentry, whose playing time has increased with outfielder Joey Rickard on the disabled list, is hitless in 12 at bats and is 0-for-10 against left-handers.