TORONTO (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles are struggling to come through in the clutch, and it’s putting their playoff hopes in an increasingly precarious position.
Colby Rasmus hit a two-run home run, Jeremy Jefress won for the first time in more than two years and the Toronto Blue Jays beat Baltimore 4-3 on Saturday, handing the slumping Orioles their fifth loss in seven games.
Baltimore finished 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position, the 11th time in 13 games they’ve had two hits or fewer in such situations.
“It’s hard to do,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s why it takes the best players in the world to do it. They’ve done it a lot more times than they haven’t. It just gets magnified at this time of year.”
The Orioles stranded eight runners, four of them at third base. They’re batting .221 (36 for 163) with runners in scoring position in their past 21 games.
“We got a couple of timely hits but not enough today,” catcher Matt Wieters said.
Baltimore, which came in 2 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in the race for the second AL wild-card berth, failed to take advantage of the rival New York Yankees’ loss at Boston earlier in the day.
“It’s not easy to make the playoffs, it sure isn’t,” Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth said. “Doing it last year was kind of an eye-opener on exactly how it’s got to be done. It’s a grind, it’s a battle to make the playoffs.”
With just 14 games remaining, Showalter said his players don’t need to be told what’s at stake.
“We’ve had urgency all year,” he said. “This isn’t some different dial we have to go to. Our guys get it.”
Rasmus erased Baltimore’s 3-2 lead by hammering a changeup from Chris Tillman (16-6) off the facing of the second deck in the seventh inning. For Rasmus, it was his 20th homer of the season and second in two days.
“He looks good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “That doesn’t always happen when you’re out for that long and you don’t get a whole lot of work in.”
After missing more than a month with a strained muscle in his left side, Rasmus was activated off the 15-day disabled list before Friday’s game, hitting a solo homer off Jason Hammel in Baltimore’s 5-3 win.
Rasmus’ long ball Saturday made the Blue Jays the first team in the majors this season with at least five 20-homer players. Edwin Encarnacion (36), Jose Bautista (28), J.P. Arencibia (20) and Adam Lind (20) are the others.
“I’m happy about it for sure,” Rasmus said. “It feels good to hit 20 home runs.”
The decisive homer was the 30th allowed by Tillman (16-6) this season. Only Oakland’s A.J. Griffin (34) and Toronto’s R.A. Dickey (31) have surrendered more.
“It wasn’t a terrible pitch,” Wieters said. “It probably could have been maybe a little bit lower and he might have gotten a groundball off of it. You’ve got to give credit to (Rasmus) because he kept it fair. It’s a tough pitch to keep fair when you’re a little bit out front. When he hit it, I thought it was going to hook foul for sure but it didn’t.”
Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who hit his 50th home run Friday, finished 1 for 4 with a double.
Jeffress (1-0) pitched one scoreless inning of relief to win for the first time since April 5, 2011, when he beat the Chicago White Sox while pitching for Kansas City.
Toronto’s Aaron Loup got two outs in the eighth and Neil Wagner got the third, striking out Matt Wieters to strand runners at the corners.
Casey Janssen finished for his 30th save in 32 chances as the Blue Jays snapped a four-game losing streak
Tillman allowed four runs and six hits in eight innings to lose for the first time since Aug. 19, ending a five-start unbeaten run. The right-hander, who walked two and struck out four in his first career complete game, also failed to become Baltimore’s first 17-game winner since Mike Mussina in 1999.
“He was solid, just got a couple of changeups up,” Showalter said. “It’s been a big pitch for him all year. Just elevated a couple and they made him pay for it.”
Back-to-back doubles by Manny Machado and Davis gave the Orioles a lead in the first, snapping Blue Jays starter Esmil Rogers’ scoreless innings streak at 15.
Toronto answered in the bottom half when Moises Sierra hit a two-out, two-run double.
Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy drew back-to-back walks in the fourth and Wieters followed with an RBI single.
Gose hit a two-out triple in the second, but Jose Reyes flied out to end the inning. That was the first of eight straight outs by Tillman, a streak that ended when Gose singled in the fifth. Gose was later caught trying to steal second.
Brett Lawrie hit a leadoff single in the sixth but was erased on a double play. But Tillman’s luck ran out after he walked Sierra to begin the seventh, with Rasmus homering on the very next pitch.
“I made a mistake and he put a good swing on it,” Tillman said. “I’ve got to be better there. It’s a big mistake.”
Rogers allowed three runs and five hits in six innings. He walked two and matched his career high with seven strikeouts.
NOTES: Baltimore is 16-28 in one-run games this season. They went 29-9 in one-run games in 2012. … Machado’s double in the first was his major league-leading 50th of the season. … Orioles RHP Miguel Gonzalez (9-7) faces Toronto LHP Mark Buehrle (11-8) in Sunday’s series finale.
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