BALTIMORE (AP) The Baltimore Orioles had every right to experience a letdown just one night after clinching their first AL East title in 17 years.
It would have made perfect sense, except that the players – and Steve Pearce, in particular – are simply having too much fun.
Pearce homered twice and drove in four runs as the Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays 6-1 Wednesday night for a three-game sweep.
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One of the key components of Baltimore’s surprising season, Pearce hit a solo shot in the third inning and a three-run drive in the fifth. His 20 homers this year are three more than the 31-year-old had previously in his entire career.
”It’s just a great feeling,” Pearce said. ”I don’t know, it’s just great to contribute on this team and win ballgames. Personally, it feels great for me and I want to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Pearce, who also connected Tuesday night in the division-clinching victory, has seven RBIs in his last two games.
”The key to the series was being able to get Pearce out,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. ”He burned us last night, then again tonight. In a lot of ways that’s a big, big part of the game right there.”
In the seventh inning, Aaron Sanchez threw a high, inside pitch that sent Pearce to the ground. Then, for the third time in three games, the plate umpire warned both teams about throwing at batters.
”No intention,” Sanchez said. ”Just sailed on me.”
It was the 10th win in 11 games for the Orioles, who have a shot to earn home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Baltimore started the day three games behind the Los Angeles Angels with 11 to play.
Still, Orioles manager Buck Showalter began the process of resting some of his regulars, including Nick Markakis. Pearce took over in right field and Christian Walker made his major league debut at first base.
Walker doubled in the seventh for his first hit, and Baltimore completed its third sweep in five series this month.
”It’s awesome,” Walker said of his liner to left. ”It’s a relief to get that first one out of the way for sure. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
The Orioles lead the AL East by 14 1/2 games, their biggest cushion since Oct. 1, 1970.
David Lough homered for Baltimore in the eighth, the team’s major league-leading 199th of the season.
Bud Norris (14-8) allowed two hits and five walks in 5 1-3 scoreless innings to improve to 4-0 lifetime against Toronto. His performance came after a night in which the players drenched each other in champagne and beer in a celebration that lasted well past midnight.
”I tried to get as much sleep as I could,” Norris said. ”I was still pretty excited and everything else. Tried to get some rest and just come to the ballpark, kind of go through the routine. We’ve already clinched, but like I said I want to go out there and do my part and keep auditioning for the postseason.”
J.A. Happ (9-11) gave up both homers to Pearce and lost his third straight start. Toronto pitchers have surrendered home runs in seven straight games.
”They are where they are at for a reason,” Happ said. ”They are playing at a high level right now all around.”
Jose Reyes drove in a seventh-inning run for the Blue Jays, who have lost four in row. Their wild-card chances now are only mathematically viable.
Blue Jays: Toronto opens its final road series of the year Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays (36-41) are already assured their 11th consecutive losing season on the road.
Orioles: Baltimore gets a day off Thursday before playing its final 10 games of the regular season, beginning Friday with a three-game home series against Boston.
Toronto rookie Marcus Stroman is appealing a six-game suspension he received for throwing at the head of Baltimore’s Caleb Joseph on Monday.
”I would never intentionally throw at anyone,” Stroman insisted.
But Showalter, who previously criticized Stroman for the pitch, said, ”I had a lot of confidence MLB would look at it and do what needs to be done.”