Brach on Britton: “I knew a double play was coming” (plus 101-year-old fan’s first pitch)

About the time O’s closer Zach Britton allowed a single and back-to-back walks to load the bases in the ninth inning yesterday, Brad Brach thought, ‘What, me worry?’

Brach has seen Britton pitch too well too many times to think this one would get away from one of the best closers in baseball. Seconds later, Brach was on the field shaking hands after Britton got Josh Donaldson to bounce into a game-ending double play and the Orioles had a much-needed 4-2 win over Toronto.

“I knew a double play was coming,” Brach said. “Zach is always one pitch away from the inning being over. Wasn’t worried at all. Donaldson is one of better hitters but Zach is also one of the better pitchers in baseball.”

Britton recorded another save and is now 21-for-21 in save chances. He has a 17-game scoreless streak over 19 innings since May 5. He has held opponent batters to a slash line of .134/.192/.196 in 29 innings for the season.

On a team with several players worthy of All-Star consideration, Britton may be most worthy of them all. He’s been outstanding, even on days when it gets interesting like Saturday.

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Brach said the O’s pitching staff needed that game after allowing 34 runs the previous three games versus Toronto.

“Definitely,” Brach said. “That is what we are capable of doing. I think these last five games we struggled against them, but today was more of an indication of the pitching we have. Just got back to what makes us successful.”

Brach threw some props Yovani Gallardo’s way in the postgame clubhouse. Gallardo returned to the rotation Saturday and allowed five hits and two runs to Toronto over five innings. He slowed a Blue Jays team that had scored 10 runs or more in five of its previous seven games. He slowed a Blue Jays team that was averaging 6.5 runs per game with an OPS of .887 in June.

“It’s awesome,” Brach said. “We missed Yovani. He is a veteran and was one of the better pitchers on the market this offseason. We got him to pitch just like he did today. Hopefully he gets his pitch count up and can go deeper into games and pass the ball on to the bullpen.

“I was talking to Darren (O’Day) today, saying it was almost like we made a trade acquisition with him coming back. It will be great seeing him once every five days.”

So the Orioles hold onto first place in the AL East at 39-28. They lead Boston by one game and Toronto by two. With a win today, they will take the series over Toronto and would go 5-5 in a 10-game stretch against the Red Sox and Blue Jays.

The Orioles have lost just one home series all year, going 8-1-2 in series with a 25-12 record. Their only home series loss was to Seattle back on May 17-19.

Before Saturday’s loss, Toronto had won four in a row, outscoring its opponents 44-10. The Blue Jays have won seven of nine games and are 19-10 in their past 29 games. They are 13-3 in their past 16 AL East games.

So beating them today, taking a series from a hot Toronto club and going 5-5 in this stretch against Boston and Toronto, would be big for the Orioles. Chris Tillman (9-1, 2.87 ERA) faces right-hander Marcus Stroman (6-2, 4.76 ERA) in today’s series finale.

By the way, it has been a good weekend at the turnstiles for the Orioles. Entering this series, the O’s average attendance this year was 23,769. But the two Toronto games have drawn 80,207 raising the average for the year more than a thousand, to 24,652.

Manny Machado will begin serving his four-game suspension today. He will leave the lineup with a hot bat. He is batting .452 his last seven games and .360 his past 12 games.

The Orioles will be down a position player and with a 24-man roster the next four games. Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura is serving an eight-game suspension for beaning Machado with a 99 mph heater. But he would only have played in one of the eight games. Call me crazy, but that is not equitable at all.

Way to go, Martha!: Prior to Saturday’s game, Martha Ahlfeldt threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ahlfeldt, who will soon celebrate her 102nd birthday, was born on July 16, 1914, in Baltimore. She is a mother of two, grandmother of 11, great-grandmother of eight, and great-great-grandmother of two. Her love for the Orioles started in the 1940’s when her father took her to see the International League Orioles. She and her husband, Charles, held Orioles season tickets in the 1960’s and 1970’s at Memorial Stadium.

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