"They're a really good team and there's no secret why they're there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of a Toronto team that tied the season series, 5-5. "They're very athletically talented and their pitching has really been solid. We knew that. I think the team everybody thought they might be last year, they are this year. We'd like to do better against a team that good, but I'm sure they would too, have liked to have done better over the course of the season. There's a lot of baseball left."
That's good news for the Orioles, who have struggled to consistently get the offense and pitching going at once. After finishing their road trip with a .421 (16-for-38) batting average with runners in scoring position over four games, the Orioles hit .217 (13-for-60) on the homestand. They squandered several chances Sunday, handing Chris Tillman his second consecutive loss despite turning in a quality start.
"It's not a missed opportunity, we're going to get back and face our division mid-August and throughout September," said center fielder Adam Jones, who hit a solo homer to put the O's within three. "So we're going to have our chance again at all our guys in our division."
After Jones' two-out, eighth-inning homer off reliever Dustin McGowan, the O's got a one-out single from J.J. Hardy in the ninth. But Jonathan Schoop grounded into a fielder's choice and Nick Hundley struck out for the third time to end the game. Showalter indicated after the game that all bench players were available, although he wanted to stay away from using certain guys if possible.
The Orioles, who don't get an off-day until Thursday, will now head to Tampa for a three-game series against the last-place Rays hoping that their pitching can continue to keep the team afloat.
Tillman went seven innings Sunday, his longest outing since May 16's shutout, and allowed three runs on eight hits in another step forward for the previously struggling right-hander. The Orioles' Opening Day starter, Tillman has had back-to-back quality starts for the first time since April 6 and 11, which were his second and third games of the year.
"Well, there's two ways to look at it. If you go through a little spell and you're not swinging the bats well, you're pitching allows you to stay competitive to that point," Showalter said. "So, it just depends how you want to look at it. But you'd like to have both of them clicking. But we haven't been able to do that consistently yet."
The Orioles' offense looked poised to get on the board in the third inning after a leadoff double from Hardy and a single from Schoop. But Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ got Hundley to fly out and struck out Nick Markakis and Manny Machado to end the threat.
"That could swing the game one way or the other and he stepped up," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "I thought [Happ] was really locked in today."
The Orioles, who lost their replay review of Jones' fourth-inning groundout, scored their lone run off Happ on Nelson Cruz's two-out single in the sixth. Cruz drove in Jones, who doubled before him, but Happ retired Steve Pearce on a warning-track flyout to keep Toronto out in front.
Happ exited after Delmon Young's leadoff single in the seventh, striking out six and not issuing a walk. Tillman wasn't as fortunate in working around leadoff guys, allowing four of the first five leadoff men on -- three of whom came around to score.
"Better," Tillman said of his performance. "Not good enough, but I was able to make some pitches and command the fastball a little bit later in the game. Made some good pitches with my offspeed stuff to get out of some stuff. Like I said, it was good, not good enough."
Still, Tillman, who had a recent stretch of two of four starts in which he didn't record an out in the second inning, gave the Orioles a chance in the 92-pitch outing. He didn't issue a walk for the first time all season and pitched around a leadoff single in his final frame to exit to cheers from the sellout crowd.
Those cheers turned into boos for right-hander Tommy Hunter, who allowed a pair of runs in the eighth and exited with two runners on in favor of lefty T.J. McFarland.
"He's wanting to contribute so bad," Showalter said of Hunter, who saw his ERA creep up to 6.52. "We're going to need Tommy to contribute like he did last year in this role because he was really good at it last year. If I know Tommy, he'll make the adjustments and contribute, but there were a lot of things that went on today other than Tommy.
"Happ was really good. He's always capable of that. And unfortunately, he put together a really good game, established the fastball on both sides and breaking ball. We had one opportunity early to do some things but we never really mounted a whole lot off him."