BALTIMORE -- The newly crowned champions of the American League East took the field tonight looking to get the three-game sweep of the Blue Jays, and despite a night of heavy celebrating the night before, they prevailed. Starting pitcher Bud Norris was shaky but still kept the Blue Jays off the board for 5 ⅓ innings and the offense was fueled by a two-homer night from the people's hero, Steve Pearce.
Norris actually only allowed two hits in his outing, but a combination of shaky control and a small strike zone resulted in five walks. Norris has been pretty good with walks this year, his 7.2% walk rate the lowest of his career and second lowest on the O's rotation to Wei-Yin Chen. Only once this season before tonight has he walked more than three, when he walked four back in May against the Rays. But tonight he was just a little off.
Thankfully the damage was contained as he never walked more than one batter in an inning, and twice the Blue Jays let him off the hook. In the fourth inning, Norris walked Anthony Gose to start the inning, but Gose attempted to run on Caleb Joseph and you know how that goes. And in the very next inning Edwin Encarnacion was the recipient of a leadoff walk, but Norris induced a ground ball that went for a 6-4-3 double play.
Norris started the sixth inning and got into hot water immediately. After an infield hit from Jose Reyes, Norris issued his fifth walk of the game. Adam Jones made a leaping catch in the outfield on a ball hit by Encarnacion for the first out, and that was it for Norris. Not his best game, certainly. Brian Matusz came on to pitch in relief and walked one batter of his own, but got out ot the inning without allowing any runs to score. Norris's final pitching line was 5 ⅓ IP, 2 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 4 K. He left with a four-run lead, all four of which came in to score on Steve Pearce home runs.
Just as he did in last night's division clinching game, Pearce started the scoring for the Orioles tonight. After the Orioles squandered runners on first and third with no outs in the second inning, Pearce came through with a solo home run in the third. He struck again in the fifth inning, when two-out singles by Jonathan Schoop and Jimmy Parades set the table for Pearce's second Earl Weaver Special in as many nights. Honestly, I know we've said this a hundred times, but where would this team be without Steve Pearce? He now has 20 home runs on the season.
The Blue Jays' only run of the night came in seventh inning and was charged to Matusz. Matusz didn't look his best tonight, to say the least. But it's also worth noting that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons appeared to be managing this game like his life depended on it. In the 1 ⅓ innings that Matusz pitched, Gibbons sent in four pinch-hitters to face him, replacing every lefty batter except for Ryan Goins. It almost worked as Matusz found himself with runners on second and third with no outs (one of whom, admittedly, reached on a hit that David Lough probably should have caught). But he limited the damage to one RBI ground out and was relieved before facing Jose Bautista.
The Orioles scored an insurance run in the seventh inning, but what will be remembered is the drama that ensued. Christian Walker, making his major league debut, doubled down the left field line for his first ever hit. Well done, Christian! He was replaced by pinch runner Quintin Berry, who moved to third base on a passed ball. Pitcher Aaron Sanchez had come on to start the inning, and with one out and Berry on third he just barely clipped Schoop with a pitch. It appeared that Schoop didn't even realize it until the umpire told him.
Paredes knocked in Berry on a force out that erased Schoop from the basepaths, and then stole second base to put himself into scoring position with two outs. Sanchez then threw a pitch that went up and in on Pearce and knocked him to the ground. What the heck, Blue Jays! Was it that he hit two home runs? Was it that Paredes stole second base with a four-run lead? Whatever the reason, the crowd of over 37,000 voiced their displeasure with some of the loudest booing I've heard at Camden Yards in awhile.
Most likely, Sanchez just wasn't pitching well. He'd already thrown a pitch that the catcher couldn't handle that went for a passed ball and he'd hit Schoop, even if just barely. But the Orioles and their fans are still on edge from the headhunting that Marcus Stroman had done on Caleb Joseph in game one, not to mention that the Blue Jays hit Nick Markakis with a pitch last night. Both benches were warned and Pearce ultimately walked. Adam Jones then reached on an error to load the bases, and the loud and feisty crowd obviously wanted Nelson Cruz to punish the Blue Jays for their Orioles-hitting ways. But Cruz grounded out to end the inning, and Sanchez walked off the field to boos that could probably be heard from Federal Hill.
The O's sixth and final run came in the eighth inning from Lough, who perhaps wanted to make up for fumbling a catch in the previous inning. He hit a line drive to right field that just hit the foul pole.
With the lead safely in hand, T.J. McFarland came in to pitch the ninth inning. He made quick work of the Jays, getting them 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. With the sweep complete, the Orioles head into a rare home off day before the Red Sox come to town for a weekend series.
- The Orioles are now 32 games over .500 with ten games to play. The 1997 team finished the year 34 games above .500.
- This was the first three-game sweep against the Blue Jays since April 24-26, 2012. They also swept the Jays in a two-game series that year.
- Over the last 16 games, Orioles starting pitchers are 9-1 with a 1.69 ERA, and the O's as a whole have gone 13-3.
- Tonight was the second two-homer game in Steve Pearce's career and the 11th multi-homer game by an Orioles this year.