TORONTO – J.A. Happ could see his Toronto teammates were having a tough time at the plate, and he didn't want their struggles to affect his own outing.
Joe Saunders and three relievers combined on a three-hitter and the charging Baltimore Orioles blanked the Blue Jays 4-0 Monday, cutting their AL East deficit to one game.
Happ said he was conscious of trying not to be too fine as Saunders sliced through Toronto's lineup, setting down the first 17 batters in order.
"You try not to think about it but when you're out there you just want to give us the best chance you can," Happ said. "Sometimes you try to do a little too much and be a little too fine, but I tried to stay aggressive.
"I was trying to be pretty selective in the pitches I threw to keep us in the game as best as I could," Happ added. "They chased me out of there quicker than I would have liked."
Happ (3-2) allowed three runs, two earned, and six hits in five-plus innings to lose for the first time since Aug. 7 at Tampa Bay. He walked two and struck out nine, one shy of his season high.
"I thought Jay had quality stuff today as evidenced by the number of strikeouts," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter praised Happ for not letting the Orioles build too big a lead.
"He bent but didn't break," Showalter said. "He gave them a chance to win today."
The Blue Jays, who were shut out for the seventh time this season, have lost three straight and 11 of 15.
The Orioles, who took two of three at Yankee Stadium over the weekend, moved even closer to New York after the Yankees lost 4-3 at Tampa Bay.
J.J. Hardy drove in two runs as the Orioles won for the eighth time in 10 games. The one-game gap marks the closest anyone has been to the Yankees since mid-June.
Baltimore, which had lost four in a row at Toronto, collected its eighth shutout of the season. The Orioles have won 20 of 28 overall.
Acquired recently from Arizona, Saunders (1-1) was perfect through five before hanging a changeup to nine-hole hitter Adeiny Hechavarria, who lined a two-out single to center in the sixth.
Saunders acknowledged he'd long been dreaming of the possibility of a perfect game or no-hitter.
"You think about it," he said, smiling. "I thought about it after the first. I was like 'Ooh, nice. I didn't give up a hit in the first.'"
Saunders bounced back nicely from his Baltimore debut, when he allowed six runs in 5 1-3 innings in a loss to the White Sox.
"Today he settled in a little bit more," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He was definitely in control the whole game and was able to mix in different off-speed pitches."
After Hechavarria's hit, Rajai Davis followed with a walk, but Saunders struck out Colby Rasmus to end the inning. Saunders allowed three hits in 6 1-3 innings. He walked two and struck out two.
"(Saunders) was the difference today," Showalter said.
Luis Ayala replaced Saunders after the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Ayala escaped by fanning rookie Moises Sierra and getting Jeff Mathis to fly out.
Pedro Strop worked the eighth and Jim Johnson finished for Baltimore.
Adam Jones had two hits and Nick Markakis reached three times for the Orioles.
The Orioles opened the scoring in the second when Manny Machado led off with a fly down the line in right. Fighting the sun and making a long run to the ball, Sierra couldn't come up with the sliding catch and was charged with a three-base error.
"Obviously Moises had a difficult time with the sun in right," Farrell said.
Machado scored when Nate McLouth followed with a sacrifice bunt.
Baltimore tacked on two more in the fifth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Markakis and Hardy. Happ avoided further damage by striking out Wieters, Mark Reynolds and Machado to strand runners at second and third.
"They were able to manufacture a couple of runs but he made a number of key pitches to prevent a big inning," Farrell said.
Hardy added an RBI single in the eighth.
Brad Lincoln replaced Happ after McLouth doubled off the wall to begin the sixth. A walk, a sacrifice and an intentional walk loaded the bases for Hardy, but he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
NOTES: Toronto recalled LHP Brett Cecil and activated RHP Jason Frasor (forearm) off the 15-day DL. ... The Orioles selected LHP Zach Phillips from Triple-A Norfolk and designated RHP Jason Berken for assignment. Baltimore also recalled RHP Tommy Hunter from Double-A Bowie. ... Blue Jays C J.P. Arencibia (right hand) has begun a rehab assignment at Class-A Dunedin and could rejoin the team by the end of the week, manager John Farrell said. ... The Orioles will recall RHP Zach Britton before Tuesday's game, allowing him to start against Toronto.