BALTIMORE -- There's no secret formula. If the Orioles are going to compete in the American League East all year, they need to get consistent, quality starting pitching.
Although six games might not qualify as a trend, the Orioles' rotation is finally starting to show signs that it is able to do its part.
Counting Saturday afternoon's 3-2 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles have registered six consecutive quality starts, padding their season high. That's a huge turnaround for a rotation that entered the week with the fourth-worst ERA in the AL.
This time it was right-hander Bud Norris, who delivered his second strong performance during this homestand, allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings and walking off the mound in the seventh to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 33,901.
The Orioles (35-32) are back within 3 1/2 games of the division-leading Blue Jays (40-30) with the finale of the four-game series Sunday at Camden Yards. The Orioles are 13-10 in one-run games this year.
Fresh off eight shutout innings against Boston on Monday, Norris (6-5) struggled early before neutralizing the mighty Blue Jays for most of Saturday afternoon.
The Orioles bullpen nearly allowed Toronto to tie in the eighth, but a play at the plate helped keep a run off the board.
Darren O'Day, who picked up a key ground out to end the seventh, began the eighth by hitting Jose Bautista with a pitch. With one out, Edwin Encarnacion doubled into the left field corner and Bautista attempted to score from first.
J.J. Hardy made a perfect relay throw to catcher Nick Hundley to get Bautista at the plate, but the game was delayed one minute and 41 seconds by the umpiring crew while they reviewed whether Hundley had violated Rule 7.13 -- the collision rule.
It was ruled there was no violation -- that Hundley had not improperly blocked the plate before receiving the ball.
Two batters later, Brett Lawrie singled off Ryan Webb to score Encarnacion and make it a one-run game. But Webb induced a fly out to end the eighth and Zach Britton recorded his seventh save with a scoreless ninth.
The Orioles' two-run fifth not only gave them the lead, but also provided national sports shows with two highlights that can be shown repeatedly all year -- maybe longer.
The first could end up in the baseball blooper Hall of Fame.
With one out, Adam Jones hit a grounder to third that Juan Francisco fielded, but his poor throw bounced past Encarnacion. Jones made the turn around first, where umpire Hunter Wendelstedt was positioned.
Jones stepped on the umpire's foot and gave him an accidental shove as he passed by, sending Wendelstedt to the infield dirt on his backside. Wendelstedt, a veteran umpire, seemed to take the fall in stride, though the fans -- and some on the field -- erupted with laughter.
Two pitches later, Chris Davis smashed an R.A. Dickey knuckleball into the Orioles bullpen for his 11th home run of the season. As the ball soared over the outfield wall, reliever Tommy Hunter made his own highlight.
Hunter, with a glove in his hand, jumped and caught the homer on the fly as it headed toward the Blue Jays' bullpen.
The Orioles scored their only other run against Dickey thanks to a hustle play by designated hitter Delmon Young, who hit a one-out single in the fourth.
Young then went from first to third on a bloop single to right center, which set up Hundley's sacrifice fly. Young read the single perfectly and motored into third just ahead of the throw. Dickey (6-5) allowed three runs (two earned) in 62/3 innings, leaving in the seventh due to right groin tightness.
Norris went from shaky to shutdown fairly quickly. He allowed a runner in each of the first four innings he pitched, but his only troubling frame was the second, when he gave up two singles, hit a batter and then surrendered a bases-loaded, five-pitch walk to Toronto catcher Josh Thole.
He limited the damage in the second by getting a strikeout and an inning-ending comebacker, starting a string in which he retired 16 of 18 batters.
In their past six starts, the Orioles' rotation has allowed just five earned runs in 392/3 innings. They have given up two runs or fewer in 13 of their last 16 games.
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