TORONTO – It took a while, but the Blue Jays showed off their power in the middle innings tonight. Two swings produced five big runs and what was a precarious one-run Orioles lead turned into a deficit that proved too big.
Matt Chapman hit two of Toronto’s three homers tonight and George Springer’s three-run shot put the Jays ahead in the fifth inning as they beat the Orioles 6-3 in the opener of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
The Orioles (75-66) fall six games behind the Blue Jays in the wild card race. They lost for the seventh time in 11 games and for the fifth time in the last six games between these teams.
On a night the Blue Jays used a bullpen game on the mound, the Orioles didn’t get to either of their first two pitchers. But it was only the fourth inning when they saw lefty Yusei Kikuchi after the Orioles were held hit hitless at the outset by righty Trevor Richards in the first inning and righty Julian Merryweather for the next two.
But Adley Rutschman’s first major league homer off a left-handed pitcher gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead in the fourth. That was after Richards and Merryweather faced the minimum through three on a combined 42 pitches.
But Kikuchi, with a record of 4-7 and 5.46 ERA, took the mound for the fourth and Cedric Mullins greeted him with a line shot to the gap in right-center that was 97 mph off for the bat for his third triple of the year. Rutschman worked the count full off Kikuchi, then smoked a 3-2 fastball out to left. It exited quickly, a line shot two-run blast for the lead at 102 mph off the bat.
It was Rutschman’s 11th big league homer, but first off a lefty in 93 plate appearances. He began the night batting .158 with an OPS of .513 off lefties.
The Blue Jays had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on Chapman’s 25th homer and his fifth in 20 career at-bats off the O’s Jordan Lyles.
Lyles and the Birds nursed their 2-1 lead into the last of the fifth but were trailing by the end of the frame.
Chapman singled to lead off the inning and Lyles walked Raimel Tapia. He then came close to wriggling out of that jam when Danny Jansen lined out and Jackie Bradley Jr. fanned on a nifty curveball. But a 3-2 pitch curve to leadoff man Springer over the outer half stayed up in the zone, and he turned on the ball and drove it out to left-center field.
It was a huge three-run homer, No. 21 that went 422 feet, for the 4-2 Blue Jays lead on Lyles and the Orioles. Lyles was a strike away from getting out of the jam.
“I think he just hung a curveball there 3-2," manager Brandon Hyde said of Lyles. "But you know that made it a 4-2 game there in the fifth inning and we just didn’t score enough runs. We have to be able to outscore these guys. They have a great offense and Chapman took us deep twice. We just didn’t score many runs tonight.”
An inning later Chapman hit his second of the day, a two-run blast to left off Joey Krehbiel for the 6-2 lead. It was No. 26 on the year and his 10th career multi-homer day.
“You look at their numbers, they have a good bullpen," said Hyde. "And we’ve seen a lot of those guys. Give them credit, they threw extremely well. We didn’t have our best night offensively and we gave up a few homers and lost the game."
Lyles took the loss, falling to 10-11 with an ERA of 4.70. He showed much more velocity than his last game on Saturday when he was pitching on nine days’ rest coming off an illness against Boston. But the two homers he allowed accounted for the four runs he gave up on five hits in five innings. Lyles threw 82 pitches, 52 for strikes.
“It wasn’t the worst location," said Lyles of the Springer homer that turned the game. "On the outer third, 3-2, got (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) on deck. Trying to hold that lead. Good hitter, put a good swing on it. Maybe I could have went back inside hard. Then at that point, you’re second guessing yourself. More credit to George. He put a good swing on a slider the previous at-bat and he flew out. I had the curveball working tonight. Little bit more movement than normal, so second and third time through we started leaning on the curveball over the slider. That’s why I went curveball there.
The O's scored with two outs in the ninth on Gunnar Henderson's second major league homer, a solo shot to left.
But the Baltimore offense could not get much going tonight besides the Rutschman and Henderson homers. They had just five hits for the game and only three outside of the Mullins-Rutschman combo in fourth against seven different Toronto pitchers.
Hyde disputed any sense that his team is really feeling the pennant race pressure at this point.
“No, I think we’ve felt pressure the last couple of months," he said. "Kind of stayed right where we are. We’ve played a lot of tough games the last couple months and tonight wasn’t our best game. We come back tomorrow and hopefully play well."
Toronto (82-63) has won five consecutive series and improved to 12-4 this month. The Blue Jays are 34-27 in division games and are 14-4 their past 18 American League East games.
They will now need to win the last two games of this series to gain any ground on Toronto this weekend, and if they can do that, it will be just a gain of one game in the standings.
Aberdeen wins: The high Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds beat Brooklyn 5-4 tonight to win the third and deciding game of its playoff series. The IronBirds record their first playoff series win in team history and advance to the South Atlantic League Championship Series next week.
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