Grilli’s momentum stalls in Blue Jays’ loss to Orioles

Matt Wieters snapped the 3-3 tie with a two-run shot into right field in the eighth off of Jason Grilli as the Toronto Blue Jays fell to the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

BALTIMORE – Jason Grilli has been so dominant since joining the Toronto Blue Jays that it’s easy to forget he’s facing big-league hitters.

On Tuesday night the Orioles provided an unwelcome reminder that even good pitchers get hit at inopportune times, as catcher Matt Wieters hit a two-run home run against Grilli on the way to a 5-3 Baltimore win.

The loss leaves the Blue Jays with a 75-57 record and sets up a rubber-match for Wednesday’s series finale. A Boston Red Sox loss preserved Toronto’s 2.0-game lead atop the AL East, while Baltimore’s now just 3.0 games back.

Entering play Tuesday, Grilli had been utterly dominant since joining the Blue Jays. Opponents were hitting just .144 against the right-hander, who’s striking out nearly 40 per cent of the hitters he faces. Yet a walk to Jonathan Schoop and a home run from Wieters were enough to slow Grilli’s momentum at Oriole Park at Camden Yards — at least for one night.

“He’s been unbelievable. We’re not sitting where we’re at without him, that’s for sure,” manager John Gibbons said. “We’ll bounce back (Wednesday), but shoot, he’s been fantastic.”

On paper Tuesday’s starting pitching matchup of J.A. Happ and Ubaldo Jimenez looked about as uneven as it gets. Jimenez entered the game with a 6.62 ERA — worst in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 innings. Happ? With a 17-4 record and a 3.19 ERA, he was emerging as a Cy Young candidate.

Mismatch or not, the starting pitchers delivered unexpectedly similar results Tuesday. Both pitched into the seventh inning, allowing three earned runs while walking two and striking out three. Both even surrendered home runs to familiar foes.

The Orioles got on the scoreboard in the fifth inning thanks to Steve Pearce, who homered off of Happ for the fifth time in 28 career at bats. Two batters later, Manny Machado made it 3-1 Orioles with a home run of his own.

Home runs aside, Gibbons thought his starter pitched well. Happ, though, had a different impression. He described the start as “kind of a battle” because he had trouble throwing as many strikes as he hoped, particularly with his fastball.

“I wasn’t at my best tonight, but this is an elite team, and especially at home they’re tough,” Happ said. “I made a couple mistakes, they made me pay, but we battled.”

Two innings after the Orioles rallied, Michael Saunders hit his fourth career home run in just 19 at bats against Jimenez. Saunders’ home run tied the game since Russell Martin had singled two batters earlier and for a while the Blue Jays seemed poised to put together yet another comeback win.

“Every time we play these guys it’s like that,” Gibbons said. “Back and forth, back and forth. Two pretty good teams. You come to expect that.”

Machado’s home run, his 32nd on the season, puts him in some elite company. At 24 years and 55 days of age, he became the youngest player in Orioles franchise history to reach 100 career home runs, breaking Eddie Murray’s record.

Ultimately it was the Wieters home run that made the difference against Grilli, whose streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings ended Tuesday. By the time Wednesday’s series finale starts, he intends to have forgotten all about the disappointment of a tough loss.

“Tomorrow’s a new day,” he said. “It’s the old cliche. Turn the page. Sometimes you get them and sometimes they get you.”

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