TORONTO -- A lot has changed about the Orioles since they last played in Canada, but Ryan Mountcastle made sure to show he’s still very much the same.
A historically good hitter against the Blue Jays, Mountcastle was one of Baltimore’s several heroes in a 6-2 win over Toronto on Friday night at Rogers Centre. His 10th homer of the season -- a three-run blast off Yusei Kikuchi in the third inning -- gave his team a decisive early lead and upped his career OPS against Toronto to 1.030 in 43 games.
What is it about the Blue Jays that seems to bring out the best in him?
“I don’t know,” Mountcastle said with a shrug and a smile. “It’s a good place to hit. I like it here.”
That third-inning homer was the fourth in his 11 career at-bats against the left-handed Kikuchi, and it paved the way for the type of big offensive night that had eluded starter Kyle Gibson all through May.
The right-hander had seen his team get shut out in all three of his past starts this month. As he delivered seven innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts on five hits and two walks on Friday, though, the bats finally came through.
“With these guys, it’s only a matter of time, right?” Gibson said after the win. “… Those are the games right there when you have a full team win. You look back and you see that every side of the baseball [was working]. We were good at all facets of the game.”
Gibson gave up some hard contact in the first two innings, including a Danny Jansen RBI single that gave Toronto a 1-0 lead in the second, but he locked in after that. He relied primarily on his sinker and cutter to generate some awkward swings and let the defense work behind him.
His seven innings of work were particularly important after a series against the Angels that required a lot of bullpen arms to step up. It was just what the Orioles needed from their No. 1 starter.
“Gibson definitely pitched like an ace tonight, there’s no doubt,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We're in a hitter’s ballpark against a powerhouse offensive team -- guys we know very well that are really dangerous. And for Kyle to go seven innings against them in their home ballpark is next level.”
Toronto’s second run came in the eighth -- a Bo Bichette RBI groundout that handed reliever Yennier Cano his first earned run of the season after 21 2/3 scoreless innings and 70 batters faced. But there was no panic. Instead, Cano struck out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and got Daulton Varsho to ground out to end the inning and stop a potential rally.
Frazier’s added insurance in the following frame closed the book on the series opener, which served precisely as the tone-setter the Orioles were looking for.
Now 13-2 in series openers this season, the club is firmly positioned in second place and ahead of AL East powerhouses such as the Blue Jays and the Yankees -- Baltimore’s next stop after the weekend series north of the border.
“Any AL East series is going to be big,” said Mountcastle. “And for us, to come in here and get a first-game 'W' is huge.”
This first meeting with the Blue Jays was a reminder of how things have changed since the last time the division rivals faced each other.
A young Orioles team that scratched and clawed for the last AL Wild Card spot but fell short last year is now developing a winning culture of its own. There are still some inconsistencies and it’s a long way to October, but this club understands its new status in the league.
“It's a lot more fun [to be ahead in the standings],” Hyde said before the opener in Toronto. “But it’s still really early and there’s still so much baseball to play. I’m just looking at one game and one series at a time.”
That’s probably a smart mentality when the schedule ahead shows two more games against the Blue Jays followed by three games in the Bronx against the Yankees.
“You’re on the road, facing a division opponent,” said Gibson, “Any time you can go in and get that first win … is good.”