TORONTO — Even in a season filled with potholes, the Toronto Blue Jays have occasionally found their way.
Some may float the blind squirrel explanation but the underachieving American League East team got the job done Saturday.
Colby Rasmus homered for the second day in a row since returning from the disabled list, starter Esmil Rogers handcuffed the hard-hitting Orioles for six innings and the Toronto bullpen did its job in a 4-3 win over Baltimore.
With Toronto trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning, Rasmus drove in Moises Sierra with a majestic shot off the second deck in right field to give the Jays the lead. Baltimore ace Chris Tillman (16-6) had walked Sierra to open the inning.
It was Rasmus’ 20th homer of the season and his second in as many games since returning to action Friday after being out since Aug. 11 with an oblique strain.
"I’m just happy to be here. Just glad to be back," Rasmus said in his southern drawl. "And happy to be able to give us a chance to win."
"He looks good," manager John Gibbons said of his centre-fielder. "That doesn’t always happen when you’re out for that long and you don’t get a whole lot of work in."
Rasmus’ moonshot off a Tillman change-up also made the Blue Jays the first team in the majors this season to boast five players with 20 homers, as Rasmus joined J.P. Arencibia, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion.
On Friday, Rasmus celebrated his return to action by slamming a fastball into the Baltimore bullpen.
"He’s a good player, he’s well rounded," said Tillman. "He hit a homer last night on a fastball in, tonight he hit one on a change-up. That goes to show you he’s got a good game plan right now. He’s swinging the bat well."
The Jays (68-80) snapped a four-game losing streak while the Orioles (78-70) lost their fourth in five outings as their wild-card charge continues to wobble. Baltimore outhit Toronto 8-6.
The win was especially sweet coming against a Baltimore team bristling with big bats, including a MLB-leading 198 homers. And against its ace.
"They may have the best offence in baseball, at least one of the top ones,"’ said Gibbons. "So they keep coming at you. It’s never easy. They hit home runs. You always feel on edge, especially when they get guys on base because most of those guys in that lineup can pop one on you. So it’s never easy facing those guys. And Tillman was great today too. Colby ended up getting to him late but other than that, he was dynamite too."
The late-afternoon game opened in sunlight, 15-degree temperatures and the roof open for the crowd of 29,942. It was a happy Junior Jays Saturday all around with young Jays fans allowed to run the bases after the game.
Tillman, in his 30th start of the season, gave up two runs in the first inning before settling down. Combined with the Orioles’ stingy defence, it made for slim pickings for the Jays until Rasmus found the fence.
Tillman was bidding to become the first Oriole to get 17 wins since Mike Mussina won 18 in 1999. But two swings of the bat — the Rasmus homer and a first-inning two-run double by Sierra — cost him.
Tillman, who gave up four runs on six hits over eight innings, probably deserved better. He struck out four and walked two in the first complete game of his career as his career record at the Rogers Centre dropped to 1-3 in six starts.
"He was solid, just got a couple of change-ups up," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "It’s been a big pitch for him all year. Just elevated a couple and they made him pay for it."
Rogers matched a career high with seven strikeouts in six innings but made life difficult for himself when he wasn’t on point. He gave up three runs on five hits, walked two and threw 101 pitches, including 59 strikes.
Despite a matchup of two hot pitchers, the teams combined for four doubles in the first inning.
Rogers took the mound on the heels of a career-high 15 scoreless innings covering his last three starts. That streak lasted less than an inning as Manny Machado and Chris Davis delivered back-to-back doubles with one out. For Machado, it was his 50th double of the season. Left-fielder Anthony Gose launched himself at Davis’ swerving fly ball and got his glove to it but couldn’t hang on.
Toronto, 20-50 when the opposition scores first, pulled ahead with two outs in the first when Sierra doubled home Jose Reyes and Lind. It was Sierra’s 20th hit of the season and his 14th extra-base hit (including 12 doubles).
Machado made it 2-2 with a two-out solo homer — his 14th of the season — to left field in the third. Rogers had retired seven in a row before being punished on an 0-1 pitch.
Rogers lost the strike zone in the fourth, walking a pair before an RBI single by Matt Wieters gave the visitors a 3-2 lead. But he snuffed out the Orioles charge with two strikeouts, adding two more in the fifth. And the Jays starter escaped another jam in the sixth, leaving men on second and third.
Jeremy Jeffress (1-0) came on in the seventh for Rogers to get the win, followed by Aaron Loup and Neil Wagner in the eighth when they faced the meat of the Baltimore lineup. Wagner stranded runners on first and a third by striking out Wieters.
Casey Janssen, despite giving up a Nate McLouth single with two outs, closed out the ninth for his 30th save of the season. He finished it off with a lunging stab and throw to first base to throw out Machado.
The teams wrap up their series Sunday with Mark Buehrle (11-8) starting for Toronto against Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (9-7).