The Orioles moved to the brink of claiming their first AL East title in 17 years, using a resilient pitching performance by Wei-Yin Chen to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2 Monday night.
Baltimore can clinch the division crown with a win over Toronto on Tuesday. That would assure the Orioles their second playoff berth in three years following a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
"It's pretty special to come in here (Tuesday) and have a chance to do that," manager Buck Showalter said. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of reasons, but tonight I look forward to losing that sleep. It's been a long hard grind to have that opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the chance to see our guys get a chance."
Baltimore (90-60) leads the AL East by 12 1/2 games, its biggest advantage since 1979. One more victory and the Orioles will be in celebration mode.
"We'll enjoy tonight and then come out tomorrow and see what happens," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "If we don't win, then go back and strap it back on and win the next day."
Chen (16-4) allowed two runs on nine hits over 5 2-3 innings to become the first Orioles lefty to win 16 games since Jimmy Key in 1997 — the year Baltimore last won the AL East. Although he yielded at least one hit in every inning but the second, Chen improved to 13-2 in 23 starts since May 9.
"I allowed quite a few hits out there, but I was trying to battle," Chen said through an interpreter. "I was trying to keep the ball down ... without allowing too many runs. Fortunately I can do that with the help of my teammates."
Zach Britton worked the ninth for his 35th save in 39 opportunities.
Ryan Flaherty homered and Adam Jones had three hits and an RBI as the Orioles secured their eighth win in nine games.
Jose Reyes had three hits and scored twice for the Blue Jays, whose wild-card chances shrink with every defeat.
"We've got a very slim outside shot to get to the playoffs, but we're fighting every night to try to win games," manager John Gibbons said. "But yeah, from that point of view, that's frustrating."
Blue Jays rookie Marcus Stroman (10-6) gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings. He won his previous three starts.
In the fifth inning, Stroman threw a pitch that soared by the head of Joseph, seemingly a response for Joseph blocking the plate on a slide by Reyes in the top of the inning.
"It really pushed the hot button with all of us because It certainly wasn't called for," Showalter said. "That was obvious. It was borderline professionally embarrassing."
Storman insisted the pitch just got away from him.
"Fastball in that just kind of slipped out of my hand," he said. "It's late in the game. I got two big strikeouts. I'm a little excited, and trying to get out of the inning. I know it's possibly my last hitter. Just trying to execute a fastball in."
Toronto got off to a fast start, using three straight singles to score a run before Chen got an out.
In the bottom of the first, Jones got an RBI on a 50-foot dribbler down the third-base line and another run scored on a double-play grounder.
Nelson Cruz singled in a run in the third and Flaherty hit a two-run shot in the fourth to make it 5-1.
After Danny Valencia singled in a run for Toronto in the fifth, Toronto got two on with one out in the sixth. Chen was pulled after striking out pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus. Brad Brach then struck out Reyes.
Toronto went 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position.
Blue Jays: Toronto starters have worked at least six innings in a club-record 21 straight games. The last team with a streak that long was the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals.
Orioles: Over the last 14 games, Orioles starters are 7-1 with an ERA of 1.69. Baltimore is 11-3 in those games.
Orioles RH Ubaldo Jimenez (2-6) makes his first start since Aug. 16, looking to get the clincher in a matchup against RH Drew Hutchison (10-11). Jimenez is 2-6 at home and 0-2 against Toronto in his career.Suggest a correction