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BAL@TOR: Saunders shuts out Blue Jays over 6 1/3

TORONTO -- It's never too late for someone new to play the role of hero in the Orioles' storybook season.

Joe Saunders flirted with perfection in his second start with Baltimore since being acquired from Arizona and helped move the Orioles within a game of the Yankees for first place in the American League East.

Saunders took a perfect game into the sixth inning and settled for his first win as a member of the Orioles, guiding Baltimore to a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays in front of 17,220 at Rogers Centre on Monday afternoon.

"When I got traded over here, they had a great thing going and you just want to come over here and contribute as much you can," Saunders said. "You don't want to mess it up and get blown up a lot. You want to keep the team in the ballgame, give the team a chance to win and that's what I was able to do today."

Saunders retired the first 17 batters he faced before No. 9 hitter Adeiny Hechavarria broke it up with a two-out single up the middle.

The left-hander righted the ship after getting roughed up in his Orioles debut, when he allowed seven runs -- six earned -- on 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the White Sox.

On Monday, he allowed three hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, walked two and struck out a pair to begin the three-game set in Toronto.

Saunders issued his first walk after Hechavarria ended his perfect game bid, but responded by striking out Colby Rasmus to strand both runners and escape the frame.

"Yeah, you think about it. I thought about it after the first. I'm like, 'Oh, nice, I didn't give up a hit in the first,'" Saunders joked, when asked if he was thinking about the perfect game. "In the first game of series, you want to set the tone and really give your team a chance to win."

Saunders chalked up his disappointing first outing with Baltimore to nerves, as he wanted to make a positive impression on his new team and had a lot of family in attendance at Camden Yards.

The odd thing is, he felt he had better stuff in that game than he did on Monday, but the results were much different. He's become comfortable working with All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, who said Saunders did a good job at keeping the ball down in the strike zone.

"He was definitely in control the whole game and was able to mix in different offspeed pitches," said Wieters, who went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. "Location was definitely the key today."

Saunders began to falter in the seventh, as he surrendered a pair of hits and a walk to load the bases before being removed in favor of righty Luis Ayala.

Ayala preserved Saunders' shutout by striking out Moises Sierra and getting Jeff Mathis to fly out to center fielder Adam Jones.

"Every time I can get into the game, I get excited to pitch," Ayala said. "Every game is really important."

Saunders, who made 21 starts with the Diamondbacks -- going 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA over 130 innings before joining the Orioles -- is now 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA over his first two starts with Baltimore. He worked at least six innings for the 18th time this season and recorded his 15th quality start.

The 31-year-old has been a durable arm over his eight-year career, logging 200-plus innings in each of the past two years and at least 185 in four consecutive seasons.

Saunders was given an early lead to work with after Baltimore opened up the scoring in the second off Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ, who also turned in a strong effort.

Third baseman Manny Machado led off the second with a fly ball to right field that Sierra lost in the sun, enabling Machado to reach third.

Nate McLouth brought in Machado with a squeeze bunt to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.

The Orioles extended their lead in the fifth, starting the inning with four consecutive hits, including back-to-back RBI doubles by Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy, to make it 3-0.

Hardy added an RBI single in the eighth off reliever Brett Cecil to increase Baltimore's lead to 4-0.

Happ lasted five innings, plus a batter in the sixth, allowing three runs on six hits while walking two and striking out nine. The nine strikeouts represented the most Happ (3-2) has recorded since joining the Blue Jays via a trade in July.

"He had good stuff. He was able to attack with his fastball most of the day," Wieters said. "We were able to scratch off a few runs early and Joe just did a good job of making those runs hold up."

Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson worked the final two innings to help secure the shutout, the Orioles' eighth of the season. The two relievers are a big reason why the Orioles improved to 59-0 when leading after seven innings.

The Orioles, who have had a difficult schedule, playing three straight day games, improved to 20-8 since Aug. 4.

"I'm as proud of them today, as I have been all year. That's a challenge," manager Buck Showalter said.

The Orioles, who are just 7-34 in their past 41 games at Rogers Centre, won their 75th game of the year, which is the most wins the club has posted in a season since winning 78 in 2004. Baltimore's victory also marked the first time the club has been 16 games over .500 since 1997.

Baltimore won its 38th game on the road, which is tied with the Rays for tops in the AL.

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