Orioles-Blue Jays Preview
By JON PALMIERI
(AP) -- Perhaps the most surprising development in this baseball season is the Baltimore Orioles sharing the AL East lead in September.
Making their lofty position more stunning is the players who have helped them get there - Miguel Gonzalez being a prime example.
With sole possession of first place in the East a potential outcome, Gonzalez will try to pitch the surging Orioles to their first three-game sweep in Toronto in over seven years on Wednesday night.
Just ending a run of 14 straight losing seasons would've been a huge achievement this year for an Orioles team that hasn't been to the playoffs since it won the East in 1997.
Instead, Baltimore has a share of first place in September for the first time since that season with a chance to claim one of the most unexpected division titles in recent memory after losing 93 games in 2011.
After getting 6 1-3 scoreless innings from Joe Saunders in a series-opening 4-0 win on Monday, Zach Britton tossed seven superb innings Tuesday in a 12-0 victory, the Orioles' third straight and 21st in 29 games.
Mark Reynolds started the onslaught with a three-run homer - his fifth home run in five games - and Nick Markakis, Chris Davis and Manny Machado each had three of the team's season-high 18 hits.
"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 win moved Baltimore (76-59) into a tie for first in the East with the slumping Yankees, who held a 10-game lead on July 18. Tampa Bay is 1 1/2 games behind the division co-leaders.
"We've got too many bridges to cross, too many things to do, to accomplish the goal everybody had coming out of spring training," manager Buck Showalter said.
Gonzalez (6-3, 3.31 ERA), who sat out the 2008 and 2009 seasons because of a knee injury and Tommy John surgery, was signed as a free agent in spring training and has been one of the team's most reliable starters lately.
He is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts, surrendering one home run in 33 innings in that span. The right-hander was masterful in a 6-1 victory at Yankee Stadium on Friday, striking out a career-high nine and scattering four singles over seven shutout innings.
"I think he's a guy that's just letting it fly and trusting himself," Showalter said. "He doesn't have anything to lose."
Gonzalez gave up one run in 3 1-3 innings of relief in his lone appearance against the Blue Jays on May 29.
A win in the finale would give the Orioles their first three-game sweep in Toronto since April 22-24, 2005. Baltimore is 9-4 against the Blue Jays this year, needing one more victory to win the season series for the first time since 2004.
Toronto (60-75) is scoreless in consecutive games for the first time since May 2008. The Blue Jays have lost four in a row and 26 of 35.
Brandon Morrow (8-5, 2.93) faces the Orioles for the second time in three starts since a lengthy absence. The right-hander limited the Rays to one run in 6 2-3 innings Friday in a 2-1 win, his first since June 11 after he was sidelined over two months with an oblique strain.
He wasn't as sharp at Baltimore on Aug. 25 in his first start off the disabled list, yielding four runs - two earned - and six hits in 4 2-3 innings of an 8-2 loss.
Morrow is 3-3 with a 4.79 ERA in eight starts against the Orioles.
Adam Jones is 9 for 25 with two homers off Morrow, while J.J. Hardy is 5 for 12 with a pair of home runs.
Updated September 5, 2012