Bludgeoned by injuries that seem to be piling up by the day, the Toronto Blue Jays don’t have the offensive firepower they would like in the middle of a pennant race.
Still, they hope that good enough pitching can keep them in games. J.A. Happ held up his end of the bargain Thursday night, but his stellar performance wasn’t enough as the Blue Jays lost to the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 to fall five games back of the American League East leaders.
“These are big games, they’re right behind us,” said Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, whose two-run shot was his fourth home run in the past four games. “We knew we had to come in and try to take care of business.”
Happ (8-6) was brilliant in striking out a career-high 12 batters in eight innings, and the lefty limited the damage on five hits allowed except for Joseph’s home run. Even after Happ and Drew Hutchison each tossed a gem in this vital series, Toronto lost two of three.
“If we pitch like we have the last couple nights, we at least give ourselves a good shot,” manager John Gibbons said. “That’s a game you normally think you’re going to win.”
With a full lineup, perhaps the Blue Jays (61-55) could’ve done more against starter Miguel Gonzalez (6-6) and the Baltimore bullpen. But the what-if game doesn’t mean much with Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion still out but close to returning and third baseman Brett Lawrie gone until early September with an oblique strain.
When Melky Cabrera got plunked in the right elbow in the first inning and had to leave the game because he couldn’t swing, it was another blow. Nolan Reimold went 0 for 3, and the Blue Jays managed just five hits total on a night Anthony Gose hit his first home run of the season for the only run.
“Our lineup is what it is right now,” Gibbons said. “Some nights you’re going to get that big hit, some nights you’re not.”
That big hit never came as Happ became the first pitcher in franchise history to lose a home game when allowing two or fewer earned runs and striking out 12 or more.
Happ threw 89 of his 125 pitches for strikes and worked out of a few jams with precision.
“I just tried to relax and tried to make pitches and tried to execute and not put quite as much pressure on myself,” Happ said. “Once I let go, it’s up in the air, what’s going to happen is going happen.”
Happ gave up a few doubles, but the Orioles (65-49) didn’t make him pay until the fifth, when Joseph hit a towering blast to left. On a night he didn’t make many mistakes, Happ served one up on a 2-0 fastball in Joseph’s sweet spot down and in.
“Just a bad pitch, and he didn’t miss it,” Happ said. “I kind of gave up the big hit, and that was the difference.”
It was only the difference because the Blue Jays didn’t give Happ much support. They’ve scored two or fewer runs in four of their past six games and are 1-5 in that time.
“Let’s be realistic, we’re missing the home-run ball,” Gibbons said. “That’s a big part of what we are, you know?”
This loss dropped the Blue Jays into a second-place tie with the New York Yankees. They’re also tied with the Yankees and Kansas City Royals for the AL’s second wild-card spot.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said earlier Thursday that he hoped Lind could be back as early as Monday and Encarnacion later next week. X-rays on Cabrera’s elbow were negative, but Gibbons wasn’t sure when he’d be able to play.
“He’s got a nice welt and seam marks on his arm,” Gibbons said. “I don’t think it’s a big deal, but like I’ve said a hundred times, I’ve said that before.”
Considering the Blue Jays face upcoming tests against the Detroit Tigers and pitchers Max Scherzer and David Price and then Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, they hope this run of strong pitching continues.
“We’d love to get on a roll,” Happ said. “Especially the teams we got coming up, I think we’re going to need it.”
But Happ and the rest of the starters don’t want to put too much pressure on themselves. And Thursday night the Orioles showed them how to win these kinds of games.
“You just never know who’s going to be the guy — they got so many good hitters up and down their lineup, you might not guess that Joseph was going to be the guy, but he was,” Happ said. “Hopefully we have some of that, too.”
Notes — Left-handed reliever Rob Rasmussen was returned to triple-A Buffalo so infielder Steve Tolleson could be reinstated from the paternity list for Friday’s game against Detroit. Rasmussen had been recalled when Lawrie was placed on the 15-day disabled list. ... Joseph became just the third catcher in Orioles history to hit four home runs in four games, joining Gus Triandos in 1959 and Ramon Hernandez in 2006. ... Zach Britton picked up his 24th save of the season for Baltimore.