Blue Jays tighten AL Wild Card grip vs. chasing O's
By Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays scored an early advantage in the series that could very well decide which team ends up taking the first American League Wild Card spot.
Josh Donaldson and Ezequiel Carrera homered, while right-hander Aaron Sanchez tossed six strong innings en route to a 5-1 victory over the Orioles in the series opener at Rogers Centre that dropped Toronto's magic number for a postseason spot to three over Detroit. The Blue Jays' win left Baltimore two games back of Toronto for the top Wild Card with five games to play.
The Tigers pulled within one game of the Orioles with a win over Cleveland. The Mariners remained two games back of Baltimore, while the Astros moved up to 2 1/2 games back with their win over Seattle.
"Aaron has been good all year, really one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He's as strong as ever. He's learned how to pitch, he has a big arm and a lot of movement on his fastball, but he has learned how to pitch to both sides of the plate. He shut down a good offense."
Donaldson set the tone early with a two-run shot to left field in the first inning. Carrera followed two frames later with a solo shot over the wall in left-center field as Toronto improved to 77-39 when hitting at least one home run. Donaldson and Carrera combined to go 4-for-5 with four runs and four RBIs.
Sanchez improved to a perfect 4-0 in five starts against the Orioles this season. He scattered five hits and three walks while striking out 10, which was the second time in his career he fanned at least that many batters. Sanchez's lone blemish came in the top of the third inning, when Mark Trumbo hit an RBI single, which scored Chris Davis from second base.
"We just didn't mount much offensively. Sanchez was really good again, like he's been most of the year. We had very few opportunities and we didn't cash them in very much," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was ejected in the seventh inning. "We're capable of better. We only scored one run."
This was possibly Sanchez's final start of the regular season. He's tentatively scheduled to pitch vs. Boston on the final day of the regular season, but if Toronto clinches a spot in the postseason before then, Sanchez also could be pushed back to start the Wild Card Game instead. If this was it for Sanchez, he finished the year 14-2 with a sparkling 3.06 ERA.
"I thought it went really well," Sanchez said when asked about his season. "There are areas that went north and south throughout the course of the year, but for the most part, everything stayed [consistent] and worked well. For me, it's a good accomplishment or whatever, but there are still games left, and hopefully more playoff games for me to pitch in, too."
Right-hander Kevin Gausman was not as fortunate as he took the loss for Baltimore after allowing five runs -- four earned -- over six innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Early drizzle: The Blue Jays got on the board before Gausman even recorded an out, when Donaldson hit a two-run shot over the left-field wall in the first. According to Statcast™, Donaldson's 37th home run of the season traveled a projected 429 feet and left the bat at 110 mph. Since joining Toronto prior to the 2015 season, 44 of Donaldson's 78 home runs have either tied the game or given the Blue Jays a lead, which is the most by any player in baseball over that span.
"Donaldson another good game, Carrera in that leadoff spot, he has been sparking us all year," Gibbons said. "Really a good bounce-back ballgame after a tough one yesterday."
Rogers Centre House of Horrors: Gausman was OK on Tuesday, but -- as many Orioles starters have struggled with all year -- he couldn't get out of the first inning unscathed. Gausman is 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA in three starts against Toronto, allowing 12 runs in 15 1/3 innings. Baltimore, 2-6 on the year in Toronto, has dropped six of their last seven games at Rogers Centre.
"You try to make those big guys not beat you and you can kind of get overwhelmed with some of the other guys in their lineup," Gausman said. "Me against them this year, the first inning hasn't been very good in all three of my starts. Especially when you walk the leadoff guy, you're kind of putting yourself in a bad situation."
Getting Zeke-y with it: Inserted into the leadoff spot in place of the injured Devon Travis, Carrera stepped in and gave the Blue Jays exactly what they needed. Carrera walked and scored on Donaldson's homer in the first, ripped his career-high sixth home run in the third, and added an RBI single before scoring on an error in Toronto's two-run fifth inning. Carrera now has more home runs this season than he did in his previous five years combined at the big league level.
"I just tried to make good contact with the ball," Carrera said. "I know I can hit the ball to the opposite field with power, and it's working. I just try and make good contact."
O's getting heated: Davis and Showalter were ejected for arguing balls and strikes by home-plate umpire Will Little in the top of the seventh inning. Davis -- who struck out three times -- took particular exception to his final called third strike, which marked the second out of the inning.
"I don't usually say a whole lot. I just felt like the pitches that were being called against me weren't quality pitches, and I said something earlier on in the game and it really didn't make a difference," Davis said. "So I spoke my mind in my last at-bat, and he obviously didn't like what I had to say."
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Blue Jays starters have allowed one earned run or fewer in six consecutive outings, which marks the second time in franchise history the club has enjoyed a streak that long. The Blue Jays also had that many from May 9-16, 1983.
The Blue Jays lost their challenge in the bottom of the fourth inning on a bang-bang play at second base. Russell Martin led off the inning with a hard-hit ball off the left-field wall and attempted to reach second base, with Jonathan Schoop tagging Martin after a relay throw from shortstop J.J. Hardy. Gibbons asked for a review, but the call on the field stood after replays could not definitively determine whether Martin reached second prior to being tagged.
"We know we have to go. We know what's at stake here. We know what we have to do. It's just a matter of going out and executing. That's really all we can do." -- Davis, on the Orioles' postseason hopes
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: Opening Day starter Chris Tillman will get the mound on Wednesday at 7:07 p.m. ET in Toronto. The righty is coming off his worst start of the season, lasting just five outs again Boston in a four-game sweep. Tillman said after the game he's fine physically and will look to rebound against the Jays.
Blue Jays: Left-hander Francisco Liriano gets the ball for the Blue Jays on Wednesday, with first pitch set for 7:07 p.m. ET. Liriano fired six innings of three-hit shutout ball his last time out against the Yankees, and the veteran southpaw has pitched at least six innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer in each of his last three outings.