This is unfamiliar territory for the Baltimore Orioles, and they’re just trying to roll with it.
Mark Reynolds hit a three-run homer, Zach Britton pitched seven innings to win his fourth straight start and the Orioles moved into a first-place tie in the AL East with a 12-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
Baltimore’s third consecutive victory coupled with the Yankees’ loss at Tampa Bay gave the Orioles a share of first place in September for the first time since 1997, the last time they won the division and advanced to the playoffs.
”We’re just having a good time and we’re not putting pressure on ourselves,” Reynolds said. ”Everybody knows the situation we’re in but we’re just taking it day by day and having fun.”
The Orioles also lead the AL wild-card chase, with the Rays 1 1/2 games back in the division and wild-card standings.
”It’s a big deal, obviously, but there’s a lot of games left,” Reynolds said. ”Us, the Yankees and the Rays are all right there. Oakland is having a good run right now. We can’t take anything for granted.”
Staying in the moment is something Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been preaching to his team.
”We’ve got too many bridges to cross, too many things to do, to accomplish the goal everybody had coming out of spring training,” Showalter said.
Reynolds went 3 for 4 with four RBI as the Orioles pounded out a season-high 18 hits.
Recalled from Triple-A Norfolk to face the Blue Jays, Britton (5-1) allowed four hits and improved to 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA in four starts since his last loss on Aug. 1 against New York. The left-hander struck out eight and walked two, one intentional.
”He’s really in a good place right now,” Showalter said. ”He was pretty relentless tonight, he kept pounding the zone.”
Kevin Gregg worked the eighth and Zach Phillips finished for the Orioles, who have won 21 of 29.
”We’re not looking too far ahead,” Britton said. ”We’re focusing on the moment.”
Struggling Toronto has dropped four straight and was held scoreless for the second straight game, the first time that’s happened since May 2008. The crowd of 13,556 was the Blue Jays’ smallest of the season.
Reynolds hit his 17th homer off Carlos Villanueva in the fifth. It also was his fifth homer in five games.
”I’m not even thinking,” Reynolds said of his approach at the plate. ”I’m just going out, seeing the ball and hitting it.”
Nate McLouth added a sacrifice fly in the sixth, and the Orioles pulled away with a three-run seventh. Robert Andino chased Villanueva with a sacrifice fly, Aaron Loup’s balk scored Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy singled in Nick Markakis.
Villanueva (7-5) lost for the fifth time in seven starts, allowing a season-high six runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Baltimore added five more runs against Loup and Chad Beck in a 10-batter eighth. Chris Davis hit an RBI double, Reynolds and Machado each singled in a run, Markakis tacked on an RBI double and McLouth capped the outburst with an RBI single. The Orioles left the bases loaded when Adam Jones grounded into a double play.
Mechanical troubles with the retractable roof at Rogers Centre left the field slippery and damp during the middle innings as rain fell inside the stadium. The team apologized to fans after the roof was unable to close at the normal speed, leaving many people opening umbrellas to protect themselves from the elements.
”I don’t even know why they opened it in the first place,” Reynolds said. ”It was raining outside all day.”
Toronto broke a 31-year record for rainfall Tuesday, with the remnants of Hurricane Isaac dumping more than 1 1/2 inches of rain on the city by 2 p.m.
Groundskeepers had to use drying agents on the mound and dirt cutouts around the bases before the bottom of the sixth as rain continued to fall on the infield.
As the roof inched to a close, finally snapping shut in the bottom of the seventh, Britton exchanged jokes with catcher Matt Wieters and plate umpire Laz Diaz.
”There was actually a point where it wasn’t raining on the mound but it was raining behind the plate,” Britton said. ”I was laughing at them because they had to wear it and I didn’t.”
Villanueva found it harder to see the funny side.
”We were definitely not prepared for that,” he said. ”It was a tough inning. My cleats were muddy.”
The Blue Jays had a 26-minute delay in July 2003, when a sudden storm drenched the field before the roof could close during a game against the Chicago White Sox.
NOTES: The shutout was Baltimore’s ninth of the season, seven of which have come on the road. … Orioles RHP Jason Hammel is expected to come off the 15-day disabled list to start Thursday in the opener of a crucial four-game series against the Yankees in Baltimore. … Baltimore LHP Chris Tillman underwent an MRI. Tillman, who left after three innings of Sunday’s victory over the Yankees, has no structural damage but is suffering nerve inflammation. It’s not known when he’ll pitch next. … The Blue Jays recalled Beck and OF Anthony Gose from Triple-A Las Vegas. … Orioles minor league LHP Kevin Grendell has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance.