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Kyle Gibson’s eight innings, Cedric Mullins’ tool set lead Orioles to series-clinching 5-3 win over Blue Jays

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This is why the Orioles signed Kyle Gibson.

With their rotation in flux, the Orioles called upon Gibson, temporarily their lone veteran starter once again, a day earlier than expected. He delivered Baltimore’s lengthiest start of the season Thursday, going eight innings in a series-clinching 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

“For me, that’s his best start of the year,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just super steady, ultra pro, totally professional. He’s incredible in the dugout, incredible in the clubhouse, total competitor on the mound every start he makes, and unbelievable team guy.

“Just so fortunate that we’re able to have that veteran presence. He was outstanding tonight.”

The outing, supported by home runs from Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins, kept the Orioles’ lead on the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East at two games. Baltimore (79-48) ends the season with a 10-3 record against Toronto, leading the Blue Jays — at 70-58 the best team in the AL not in playoff position — by 9 1/2 games.

“This is a big series for us,” Gibson said. “Anytime you’re playing in division and you’re playing a team that’s a playoff team, you want to win two out of three. I think that was a big game for us. We’re at home, we’re playing really well, and when you’re playing well, you want to have wins be a product of that. Every now and then, like our Atlanta series early in the year, you play really well and you don’t get wins, and that’s going to happen, but you want to be on these type of streaks right here, where you’re playing well and wins are the product at the end.”

Gibson’s deep outing — which Hyde also deemed the Orioles’ best of the year based on length alone — came a day after Baltimore scratched Jack Flaherty from his scheduled start Wednesday with what Hyde called “general soreness.” When the Orioles acquired Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals at this month’s trade deadline, he joined Gibson as the only members of Baltimore’s six-man rotation who entered this season with more than two years of experience as a major league starter.

Gibson, signed to a one-year, $10 million contract this offseason, has often provided dependability in the Orioles’ rotation, even as his surface-level numbers have been less than stellar. After Thursday’s eight innings of three-run ball, Gibson has a 5.84 ERA in his past 14 starts, but nine of them have lasted at least six innings and he’s pitched into the seventh six times. He’s perhaps pitched better than that ERA suggests, entering Thursday with a FIP — an ERA-like metric using only aspects pitchers can control such as strikeouts, walks and home runs — of 3.81 in that span.

“It’s been an interesting stretch for me here. So to go out there and to feel as confident as I was, to feel as fresh as I did late in the game this late in the season, that was a good feeling,” Gibson said.

He retired the first nine Blue Jays on 26 pitches before running into trouble in the fourth. Toronto loaded the bases with no outs and plated two runs. The latter came on a sacrifice fly from George Springer that Mullins ranged back in center to catch.

Toronto starter José Berríos, who entered 10-0 with a 2.66 ERA against Baltimore, also opened his night with three perfect innings, but after Adley Rutschman singled to begin the fourth, Santander hammered his third home run in two days, evening the game on Baltimore’s third home run to reach Eutaw Street this year. A shutdown fifth from Gibson preceded a two-run home run from Mullins in the bottom half, with Gunnar Henderson adding an RBI single in the frame.

Gibson allowed a home run by Brandon Belt in the sixth but pitched crisply from there, getting more help from Mullins when he threw out Danny Jansen trying to stretch a double into a triple in the seventh. Mullins’ defensive highlights in center have typically been diving, sliding and leaping catches, with his arm an infrequent star. Hyde called the play the “best throw of his career.”

The Orioles’ defense has been a strength after a disastrous start. Through May, Baltimore’s fielders were collectively worth minus-18 outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, tied with the Atlanta Braves for the worst defense in the majors. But they’ve been worth 6 OAA since, oft eliciting praise from Hyde and Baltimore’s pitching staff.

“It’s every night with these guys,” Gibson said. “They just don’t take a play off.”

Hyde said he didn’t consider giving Gibson the final frame after his 95 pitches. Félix Bautista worked a clean ninth for his 33rd save as the Orioles won all four series with Toronto this year after going 29-57 against the Blue Jays from 2018 to 2022.

“They’re a great team, and we’re a lot better team than we were in the past,” Hyde said. “We’re more talented, we have better pitching, we have Felix Bautista at the end and some really, really good young players.”

Around the horn

  • Before the game, the Orioles activated Danny Coulombe from the injured list and optioned Nick Vespi to Triple-A Norfolk in a swap of left-handed relievers. Coulombe, who has a 2.77 ERA in 47 appearances, missed the minimum 15 days with bicep tendinitis. This is the fourth time Baltimore has optioned Vespi since the season began; a player’s minor league option can be used five times in a year before they must be exposed to waivers to be sent to the minors. Hyde praised how Vespi, a 27-year-old who was also optioned four times in 2022, has handled his transactional career, saying, “I give him a lot of credit.”
  • The Orioles will start left-hander Cole Irvin in Friday’s series opener against the Colorado Rockies but haven’t announced the rest of their rotation for the series. The club is waiting to see how Flaherty progresses.
  • Closures on Pratt Street for the Charm City Live Music Festival will impact traffic heading to Camden Yards for games Friday and Saturday. Pratt Street will be closed between Gay Street and President Street beginning noon Friday, with the closure extending to west to Calvert Street on Sunday. Eastbound traffic on Pratt will be directed to East Baltimore Street, while drivers will still be able to travel west on East Lombard Street.
  • The game began after a 1-hour, 10-minute rain delay.

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