By Gregor Chisholm and Brittany Ghiroli
TORONTO -- The American League Wild Card race is going down to the final weekend of the regular season. The Orioles made sure of that.
Baltimore moved into a tie for the first AL Wild Card spot with a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday night at Rogers Centre. The Orioles entered this series needing to take two of three to keep their hopes of the top spot alive, and in the end, that's exactly what they did.
The Blue Jays and Orioles finished the day with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Tigers -- whose game vs. the Indians on Thursday afternoon was postponed until Monday, if needed, because of rain -- and two games over the Mariners in the AL Wild Card race. The magic number for Baltimore and Toronto is three, and if both clubs finished tied for the top Wild Card spot, the Blue Jays would host Tuesday night's Wild Card Game because of a better head-to-head record.
"I think we're grinding. We're grinding it out," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said of his club's fourth consecutive road series win. "I think right now, it's a focus thing. Everybody's focused on the same prize, the same goal and we're going to try to keep that focus going, going to New York [vs. the Yankees this weekend]."
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez picked up the victory after he allowed just one hit over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out five while walking three and had the Blue Jays looking either impatient or uncomfortable in the batter's box all night long. Chris Davis and Hyun Soo Kim each had a pair of hits, with J.J. Hardy adding a key double in the win.
"It felt great," Jimenez said of stepping up in a key spot. "There's no words to put it [in perspective], but all of the guys, they know what we are playing for, and everyone is doing their parts, especially the last two games."
Toronto initially was hoping to have a chance to clinch a Wild Card spot with a pair of wins on Wednesday and Thursday. The Blue Jays blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's loss and followed that performance up by being shut out on three hits in the series finale.
Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman kept his team in it for most of the game, but a run in the seventh and another in the eighth spoiled an otherwise solid outing. He was charged with four runs on nine hits in seven-plus innings, and it marked the first time in six September starts that he allowed more than three runs. Toronto was shut out for the eighth time this season.
"The team mentality has never changed before," Stroman said. "We're fine. We're fine. We'll take the same mentality and the same confidence into Boston, and hopefully we'll go in there and get some wins. But it hasn't changed from the beginning. It was the same exact confidence we had going into Texas down 2-0 [in the AL Division Series] last year."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Ubaldo's sensational second act: The O's righty, who was removed from the rotation in July, has been a different pitcher since getting a second chance. Jimenez has a 2.82 ERA in the second half, after posting a 7.38 mark before the break.
"Whatever happened for me in the past, I don't think about that," Jimenez said. "That's the approach I've always had. If you get stuck in the past, you don't have the energy to move on." More >
Defensive struggles: When the bats aren't producing, the margin for error becomes microscopic for Toronto. A pair of defensive miscues helped settle this one, as Michael Saunders could not come up with a sliding catch in the third inning and Josh Donaldson could not complete a double play in the fourth. Saunders' missed opportunity allowed Hardy to reach base with a double, and Hardy ended up scoring Baltimore's first run. Donaldson's throw pulled Devon Travis off second and eliminated any hope of an inning-ending double play as Davis scored.
Can't stop Kim: Wednesday night's hero, Kim reached base three more times on Thursday, going 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI to raise his average to .308 on the year.
Trouble with the RISP: The Blue Jays seemed to have Jimenez right where they wanted him in the bottom of the first inning. Ezequiel Carrera and Donaldson reached base to open the inning, but Edwin Encarnacion flied out to right field, Jose Bautista struck out and Russell Martin grounded out as the first came to an end. Through the first three innings, Toronto went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left three men on base.
"We're not getting a whole lot of hits, that's for sure," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But you know what? Jimenez was really good tonight, and you have to give credit sometimes when it's due. ... They basically shut us down tonight, but he was on. I thought Stroman pitched a nice ballgame, but we couldn't get anything going."
"You have to stay positive in this game. Sometimes you just get beat, sometimes they outplay you, sometimes they outpitch you. That's a reality. Boston's a very tough place to play, but we've always managed to play pretty good there. I don't worry about our guys. We have our backs against the wall, but we're still in a good spot. But it won't be easy. It's not supposed to be easy up here." -- Gibbons, on the Blue Jays' final regular-season weekend vs. the Red Sox
"When you're a confident pitcher and you know you're carrying that kind of stuff, a lot of times, you're right, it is big to get that first inning under your belt and get that positive feeling early on. He was just fun to watch. ... He was the hot pitcher." -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter, on Jimenez
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Blue Jays have lost 16 consecutive games when they do not hit a home run.
The Orioles won their challenge in the seventh inning, arguing that Tulowitzki was out at first base. The play, which saw Jimenez bobble it before getting a throw off, was overturned, giving Jimenez his second -- and final -- out of the night.
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: Baltimore will travel to New York, hoping to lock up a playoff spot over the weekend set. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who will take the ball first on Friday night, is coming off a quality start against Arizona last Friday, when he worked six innings of two-run ball to pick up the win. First pitch is slated for 7:05 ET.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.53) will take the mound when the Blue Jays open their final series of the regular season on Friday night at Fenway Park. Boston will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.11), with first pitch scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET. Estrada has allowed one run over his last 14 innings following a stretch in which he surrendered four runs or more in three straight.