By Gregor Chisholm and Ryan Baillargeon
BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays' high-powered offense has officially returned, and that could mean trouble for the Orioles and the rest of the teams in the American League East.
Toronto scored early and often in a lopsided 13-3 victory over Baltimore on Friday night at Camden Yards. Michael Saunders homered three times and set a new career high with eight RBIs. Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak also went deep as the Blue Jays scored at least seven runs for the fourth consecutive game.
The victory pulled the Blue Jays to within one game of Baltimore for first in the division. Toronto also moved into a tie with Boston for second place, and with the offense having averaged 9.3 runs per game over its past seven, momentum is on the Blue Jays' side.
"What's more important is that we won this game," a modest Saunders said afterward. "This is a team that's ahead of us in the division right now, so this is a big series. We took three out of four from them at home, and that was huge for us. We're playing great baseball right now from top to bottom, and it was a big win for us."
Right-hander Mike Wright took the loss for Baltimore after surrendering eight runs on six hits and a walk over 3 2/3 innings. Reliever Ubaldo Jimenez did not fare much better, as he allowed five runs on four hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings.
Aaron Sanchez earned the victory for Toronto by scattering seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts over six innings of work. He worked his way out of a bases-loaded situation in the first inning and managed to keep the game in check until the Blue Jays' lineup did the rest.
"We had some opportunities early in the game to score a lot of runs," manager Buck Showalter said. "Sanchez always had a strikeout there waiting."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The hat trick: Leave it to the Canadian to score baseball's version of the hat trick. Saunders got his night started in the first inning with a three-run shot to left-center field. In the fourth, he added another three-run shot, and in the sixth it was a two-run homer over the wall in right field. It was the first time in Saunders' career that he went deep three times in one game and the seventh time in his career he hit at least two.
"I think hitting is ultimately all about getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it," Saunders said. "I felt like that's what I was able to do tonight." More >
Not the Wright guy: When Wright got a second chance June 6, just days after he was demoted to Triple-A, he responded with seven innings without an earned run. But he couldn't back it up against Toronto in his next start, allowing four runs in five-plus innings. And in his do-over against the Blue Jays less than a week later, he fared even worse. Wright gave up a career-high eight earned runs. He was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game. More >
Scoring the touchdown: Toronto took an early 4-2 lead through three innings, but it was the fourth that put the game out of reach. The Blue Jays sent 11 batters to the plate, and Saunders' three-run shot was only part of the story. Russell Martin doubled, Smoak homered and Donaldson had a two-run triple. Toronto scored seven runs before it was all said and done while chasing Wright from the game and making life equally as difficult on Jimenez.
"We've been playing good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "People thought we were dead in the water there for awhile. It's still a long way to go."
The glove and the arm: Before this game was put out of reach, Toronto second baseman Darwin Barney protected his club's two-run lead in the third with a spectacular play in shallow right field. With the bases loaded and one out, Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop hit a high popup to the right side of the field. The ball was in serious danger of dropping for a hit, but Barney was able to track it down on the run before turning and firing it home. Martin's tag initially missed Manny Machado, but the Orioles' shortstop also didn't touch the plate on his slide. That allowed Martin to tag him a couple of seconds later for the final out of the inning. Baltimore asked for a review, but the call on the field was confirmed.
"That was huge," Sanchez said. "He has been making plays all year like that, and it could not have come at a better time for me and the team."
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Saunders became the fourth Canadian in Major League history to record a three-homer game. Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Larry Walker previously did it, as well.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (4-7, 4.16 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays continue their three-game series against the Orioles on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET. Dickey has surrendered three earned runs or fewer in each of his past four starts. He has faced Baltimore once this season, and in that outing on April 20, he surrendered three runs over six innings.
Orioles: After nearly two months on the disabled list, righty Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 7.00 ERA) will make his return to the Orioles' rotation. He allowed just one hit, a home run, in five innings in his last of three rehab starts Monday.