TORONTO — J.A. Happ didn’t let the distraction of trade rumours seep into his performance Sunday in what could have been his last home start in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.
The veteran left-hander was stellar through five innings in a no-decision, striking out nine and allowing one run as Toronto rallied from three runs down to beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 and sweep the series between the two bottom teams in the AL East.
With the playoff picture increasingly dimming in Toronto, Happ’s name has been consistently brought up as a trade target ahead of the July 31 deadline.
“I’m not letting myself go there,” Happ said, when asked if he had thought about the start as potentially his last in Toronto. “I’m just going to wait and see. It’s a tough place to be mentally, so I’m trying to avoid those what ifs right now.”
“I think in some aspects, I want the next week to go quick and in some I think I might look back and maybe not feel that way,” he added.
Happ, in his first start since making his all-star debut Tuesday night in Washington, allowed four hits and didn’t walk a batter, joining Justin Verlander as the only starters this season with four games of nine-plus strikeouts and zero walks.
He cruised through the first four innings and struck out six of his first eight batters. But he ran into trouble in a fifth inning — blemished by a missed opportunity at a double play — as his pitch count crept above the 100 mark.
Jace Peterson tied the game for Baltimore (28-72) in the fifth on a run-scoring single off Happ, and Jonathan Schoop gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead with a solo homer off Joe Biagini in the sixth.
Baltimore tacked on two more runs in the eighth before Toronto (46-52) staged a comeback with a four-run bottom of the frame to steal the win.
Yangervis Solarte drove in the winning runs on a two-run homer off Tanner Scott (1-2) that followed a comeback-sparking two-run shot from Randal Grichuk.
Solarte said after the game that he wasn’t paying attention to trade rumours surrounding Happ.
“He’s a great guy and hopefully he stays here for the long run,” Solarte said through a translator. “The most important thing is that we won. He had a great game, he pitched well.
“We try not to think about one of our teammates getting traded. We’re happy that he’s here and hopefully he stays here. When you get an all-star you don’t want to lose him.”
Solarte also hit an RBI double earlier in the game.
John Axford (4-1) earned the win despite allowing two runs — one earned — in the top of the eighth. Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth for the save.
The Orioles had taken a 4-1 lead in the eighth on a Renato Nunez RBI double and an error to Toronto second baseman Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Gurriel, who was activated off the seven-day concussion disabled list before the game, was charged with the error when he collided with shortstop Aledmys Diaz while trying to make a play on a ground ball.
“That was a communication thing, nobody knew who was taking it,” manager John Gibbons said. “It wasn’t a language barrier there, so it was something more than that. They’ll iron that out. They’re good players out there.”
Gurriel was 2 for 3 at the plate to record his fifth straight multi-hit game. The last Blue Jays rookie to do that was John Olerud in 1990.
Andrew Cashner started for Baltimore. He allowed one run, six hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings while striking out two batters in a 79-pitch outing.
NOTES: Toronto improved to 9-1 against the Orioles this season. … Attendance was 39,021. … The Blue Jays begin a three-game home series against Minnesota Monday. Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada (left glute strain) will make a rehab start at double-A instead of starting with the big league club in the opener against the Twins. Reliever Luis Santos will start for Toronto.