Perhaps the most surprising development in this baseball season is the Baltimore Orioles sharing the AL East lead in September.
Making their lofty position more stunning is the players who have helped them get there - Miguel Gonzalez being a prime example.
With sole possession of first place in the East a potential outcome, Gonzalez will try to pitch the surging Orioles to their first three-game sweep in Toronto in over seven years on Wednesday night.
Just ending a run of 14 straight losing seasons would've been a huge achievement this year for an Orioles team that hasn't been to the playoffs since it won the East in 1997.
Instead, Baltimore has a share of first place in September for the first time since that season with a chance to claim one of the most unexpected division titles in recent memory after losing 93 games in 2011.
After getting 6 1-3 scoreless innings from Joe Saunders in a series-opening 4-0 win on Monday, Zach Britton tossed seven superb innings Tuesday in a 12-0 victory, the Orioles' third straight and 21st in 29 games.
The win moved Baltimore (76-59) into a tie for first in the East with the slumping Yankees, who held a 10-game lead on July 18. Tampa Bay is 1 1/2 games behind the division co-leaders."We've got too many bridges to cross, too many things to do, to accomplish the goal everybody had coming out of spring training," manager Buck Showalter said.
Gonzalez (6-3, 3.31 ERA), who sat out the 2008 and 2009 seasons because of a knee injury and Tommy John surgery, was signed as a free agent in spring training and has been one of the team's most reliable starters lately.
He is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts, surrendering one home run in 33 innings in that span. The right-hander was masterful in a 6-1 victory at Yankee Stadium on Friday, striking out a career-high nine and scattering four singles over seven shutout innings."I think he's a guy that's just letting it fly and trusting himself," Showalter said. "He doesn't have anything to lose."
Gonzalez gave up one run in 3 1-3 innings of relief in his lone appearance against the Blue Jays on May 29.
A win in the finale would give the Orioles their first three-game sweep in Toronto since April 22-24, 2005. Baltimore is 9-4 against the Blue Jays this year, needing one more victory to win the season series for the first time since 2004.
Toronto (60-75) is scoreless in consecutive games for the first time since May 2008. The Blue Jays have lost four in a row and 26 of 35.
Brandon Morrow (8-5, 2.93) faces the Orioles for the second time in three starts since a lengthy absence. The right-hander limited the Rays to one run in 6 2-3 innings Friday in a 2-1 win, his first since June 11 after he was sidelined over two months with an oblique strain.
He wasn't as sharp at Baltimore on Aug. 25 in his first start off the disabled list, yielding four runs - two earned - and six hits in 4 2-3 innings of an 8-2 loss.
Morrow is 3-3 with a 4.79 ERA in eight starts against the Orioles.
Adam Jones is 9 for 25 with two homers off Morrow, while J.J. Hardy is 5 for 12 with a pair of home runs.
|September 02, 2012||Chris Tillman||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff right elbow|
|August 22, 2012||Matt Wieters||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shoulder contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Troy Patton||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|August 12, 2012||Wilson Betemit||15-Day DL||Sore right wrist|
|August 12, 2012||Wilson Betemit||15-Day DL||Sore right wrist|
|August 02, 2012||Ryan Flaherty||15-Day DL||Bacterial infection|
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|August 27, 2012||Henderson Alvarez||Day-to-Day||Left game - left shin contusion|
|August 27, 2012||Aaron Laffey||Day-to-Day||Left game - left calf contusion|
|August 26, 2012||Jose Bautista||15-Day DL||Left wrist inflammation|
|August 23, 2012||David Cooper||15-Day DL||Upper back soreness|
|August 22, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Left game - jammed neck|
|August 19, 2012||David Cooper||Day-to-Day||Lower back tightness|
TORONTO (AP) -- After losing a frustrating finale in Toronto, the Baltimore Orioles are heading home for their biggest series of the season.
Rookie Adeiny Hechavarria drove in the go-ahead run with a bunt single, Rajai Davis homered and had three RBIs and the Blue Jays beat the Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday night to avoid a three-game sweep.
The loss, combined with New York's 6-4 win at Tampa Bay, dropped the Orioles one game behind the Yankees as they prepare to open a four-game series against New York on Thursday night at Camden Yards.
"It's fun, I'm looking forward to it," Orioles slugger Mark Reynolds said. "This whole weekend should be a great time."
Thursday and Saturday are both sold out, with crowds of 30,000 or more expected for Friday and Sunday.
"I've heard it's sold out," Reynolds said. "Hopefully it's all Orioles fans. When that place is sold out with Orioles fans, it's a great atmosphere. I'm actually a little nervous out there playing in front of so many people."
After an off-day Monday, the Orioles host the Rays for three. Tampa Bay is currently 1 1/2 games behind Baltimore in both the AL East standings and the wild card race.
Steve Delabar (4-1) worked one inning of relief for the win as the Blue Jays snapped a four-game slide and ended Baltimore's winning streak at three.
"We just hope this could be the next winning streak for us," Davis said. "A long one, not a short one."
Adam Jones hit a solo home run and Reynolds added a two-run drive off Casey Janssen in the ninth, his sixth in six games and 18th of the season, but it wasn't enough for Baltimore.
"We played a good ballgame tonight, things just didn't go our way," right-hander Miguel Gonzalez said.
Jones got the Orioles on the board with a leadoff homer in the second, his 27th. Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow loaded the bases by walking three of the next four batters before Manny Machado made it 2-0 with an RBI groundout.
Toronto sliced the deficit in half on Kelly Johnson 's RBI double in the bottom half, snapping Baltimore's streak of 23 scoreless innings, then tied it in the third when Davis hit a one-out homer to left, his seventh.
Yunel Escobar led off the seventh with a broken bat double to left and moved to third on Johnson's bunt single. Yorvit Torrealba fouled out before Hechavarria dropped down a safety squeeze. Gonzalez charged off the mound and tried to make a backhanded scoop to the plate with his glove, but the ball rolled past Wieters as Escobar slid safely home, giving the Blue Jays their first lead in September.
"It was just good execution," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "(They) execute it right, there's not a whole lot you can do."
Gonzalez said he'd been warned to expect the squeeze play, but still wasn't able to stop it.
"Wieters came up to me and said `Hey, they might bunt. You never know, they might squeeze right here, so let's make good pitches,"' Gonzalez said. "I thought I threw a good pitch, it was a slider and he got a piece of it and bunted well."
Luis Ayala came on to face Anthony Gose , who loaded the bases with a single under the glove of shortstop J.J. Hardy. Davis followed with a two-run single to center, with Gose making it 6-2 on Jones' throwing error.
Gonzalez (6-4) gave up five runs, four earned, and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings. He walked none and struck out four.
Machado hit a leadoff single in the eighth, chasing Delabar, and Darren Oliver issued a one-out walk to Hardy. Lew Ford pinch hit for Nate McLouth and narrowly missed a double when his fly ball down the left field line fell just foul, with manager Buck Showalter coming out to argue with third base umpire Laz Diaz.
"Some people saw a replay and said it was fair, the guy that mattered said it was foul," Showalter said.
Two pitches later, Ford grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Morrow allowed two runs and three hits in six innings. He walked three and struck out six.
"Morrow for me is one of the best pitchers in the league," Reynolds said. "He's tough, man. He runs it up there 96 or 97 with a nice, hard slider."
NOTES: The Blue Jays plan to skip struggling LHP Ricky Romero the next time through the rotation. Romero, who has lost 12 straight starts, will next pitch Sept. 12 against Seattle, working on nine days' rest. Toronto will then use a six-man rotation for the remainder of the season. ... Orioles LHP Troy Patton (right ankle) threw from 120 feet on flat ground again Wednesday, and will throw off a flat mound Friday, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. There is no timetable for his return. ... Blue Jays minor league RHP Jose Brito of the Dominican Summer League has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for steroids. ... Toronto 3B Brett Lawrie (right ribcage strain) went 0 for 3 with a walk in a rehab game at Class A Dunedin, while C J.P. Arencibia (right hand) went 1-4 as Dunedin was eliminated from the playoffs. Arencibia will rejoin the Blue Jays on Friday in Boston, while Lawrie will join Double-A Lansing to continue his rehab stint.