The Blue Jays and Orioles began their final series Tuesday night at Camden Yards in Baltimore, playing the kind of baseball worthy of a post-season backdrop.
Perhaps the two sides will hook up when the stakes are much higher but, for now, fans can anticipate two more electricity charged meetings after the Jays beat the AL East-leading Orioles 6-3 in 10 innings. It was an important victory for the Jays who needed it to keep pace with the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, both easy winners on Tuesday, in the tight AL wild-card race.
With one swing of the bat, Brandon Belt — who homered twice on Sunday in Cincinnati — provided the big blow on a first-pitch, two-run no-doubter over the right-centre field fence to break a 3-3 tie. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who followed Belt with a double to left, scored an insurance run from third on a wild pitch.
Good thing, too. No lead seemed safe in this series opener, no team able to build the necessary momentum as the Jays found themselves once again immersed in a tightly contested game with no margin for error.
As the night drew longer, the drama only intensified, knowing Toronto had gone 2-8 against the O’s this season prior to Tuesday.
Both teams had to resort to their high-leverage arms from their respective bullpens, which only added to the playoff-type atmosphere.
Baltimore jumped on the Blue Jays in its first at-bats when an Austin Hayes RBI double produced the game’s first run.
Yusei Kikuchi had given up only five earned runs in his previous six starts, but his offence would pick him up in the second inning when Daulton Varsho’s two-run blast gave the Jays a 2-1 lead, and Kevin Kiermaier’s two-out RBI double in the fourth made it 3-1.
The O’s, however, pulled even in the fifth, scoring one run on a double steal and a throwing error by catcher Danny Jansen, and another on a double by rookie Jordan Westburg off reliever Yimi Garcia. Garcia had replaced Kikuchi with two out in the fifth.
The Jays bullpen was lights out after that as Trevor Richards, Jordan Hicks, Erik Swanson, Tim Mayza and, finally, Jordan Romano went five combined shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one walk (both by Mayza) while striking out eight. Romano earned his 31st save with a 1-2-3 10th.
Kikuchi wasn’t at his best, but he was no slug, either. The lefty gave up seven hits as the Orioles brought a good approach to the plate against him and made solid contact. But Kikuchi also escaped trouble with seven strikeouts in his 4.2 innings.
VLADBY BACK, POWER ISN’T
Guerrero was back in the lineup after the Jays took him out of the game Sunday in the fourth inning when he hurt his left middle finger after losing control of his bat following a wild swing and miss.
And while the 10th-inning double was first extra-base hit in nine games, it gave him three hits on the night.
Vladdy, however, has just one homer in his past 24 games.
JACK OF ALL TRADES
In his Orioles debut on Aug. 3, Jack Flaherty went six innings to pace Baltimore to its 6-1 win at Rogers Centre.
His outing featured eight strikeouts and two walks, while Flaherty allowed the one run and surrendered four hits. Also of note were the 15 consecutive hitters Flaherty retired. On April 1, the veteran righty earned the win when he pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals, who dispatched the Jays 4-1 at Busch Stadium. In both games, Flaherty’s pitching counterpart was Kevin Gausman. The two will duel at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Wednesday night with Flaherty going for the three-peat in his fourth start with Baltimore.
Since he earned the win in Toronto, Flaherty went five innings in a loss to Houston and then took the loss by going three innings against San Diego.
It will be two weeks ago this Friday when Alek Manoah was supposedly sent to triple-A Buffalo, his second minor-league stint this season.
Only this time, Manoah has remained in Toronto the entire time. Curious, to say the least, for a one-time ace who has fallen completely out of the big-league rotation and isn’t pitching, anywhere.
The Jays say they have long-relief options if required in a pinch, but it appears they do not involve Manoah. If you’ll recall, it was Bowden Francis who earned a three-inning save, his first save as a big leaguer, on Sunday in Cincinnati.
When Manoah was demoted the first time, the Blue Jays used Trevor Richards as an opener and then gave the ball to Francis.