TORONTO (AP) Austin Hays made a leaping, game-saving catch of Whit Merrifield’s liner in the ninth inning, and the AL-best Baltimore Orioles remained unbeaten at Toronto this season, outlasting the Blue Jays 4-2 on Monday night.
Orioles closer Félix Bautista walked two with one out in the ninth before Merrifield lined a 99 mph fastball to left-center. Left fielder Hays sprinted toward the gap, dove for the ball and grabbed it just before he hit the turf, a catch Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde called “unbelievable.”
“That was an enormous play in the game,” Hyde said.
Hays said he wasn’t sure he’d be able to dive far enough to make the play, one the All-Star called the top highlight of his six-year career.
“That’s got to be number one, just with the situation of the game right there, too,” Hays said. “I’d say that’s the best catch I’ve ever made.”
Bautista then struck out Santiago Espinal to complete the five-out save, his 29th in 34 opportunities. The Orioles’ dominant closer threw a season-high 35 pitches while lowering his ERA to 0.87.
“We have the best closer in baseball and he showed why tonight,” Hyde said.
Espinal had come on in the third to replace Blue Jays shortstop and AL batting leader Bo Bichette, who departed with a sore right knee.
Manager John Schneider said Bichette told him he felt his knee jam while slowing up between first and second after a single.
“We’re still gathering information to see what we’re going to do next,” Schneider said.
Gunnar Henderson homered for Baltimore, which swept a three-game series at third-place Toronto in May. Ryan Mountcastle doubled twice and drove in three runs as the Orioles maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL East.
“We’re playing really good baseball,” Baltimore right-hander Kyle Gibson said.
Gibson (10-6) allowed one run and four hits in six-plus innings to win for the first time in four starts.
Chris Bassitt (10-6) took his first loss since June 13 at Baltimore, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings.
Mountcastle hit a two-out, two-run double in the first. Henderson led off the third with his 17th homer, and Mountcastle added a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
Gibson left after walking Matt Chapman to begin the seventh. Left-hander Danny Coulombe came on and walked Daulton Varsho on four pitches but recovered by getting Alejandro Kirk to pop up, then striking out pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow and Kevin Kiermaier.
Yennier Canó gave up a leadoff homer to Merrifield in the eighth and left after issuing a pair of one-out walks to Brandon Belt and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Bautista came on and struck out Chapman looking, then retired Varsho on a flyball. Toronto finished 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Bichette hit a two-out single to right field and made the turn for second, but started to slow up as he saw Anthony Santander throwing the ball to the infield. Bichette then stopped running and reached for his knee. Shortstop Jorge Mateo came over and tagged Bichette to end the inning.
Bichette had two hits before departing, boosting his AL-leading total to 144.
Orioles: RHP Mychal Givens (shoulder) and LHP Keegan Akin (back) each threw one inning for Baltimore’s rookie-level Florida Complex League team Monday. Akin allowed three runs and four hits, while Givens struck out two and gave up one hit and didn’t allow a run.
BLUE JAY BASHER
In 46 games against Toronto, Mountcastle is batting .313 (55 for 176) with 10 doubles, 15 home runs and 39 RBIs.
“He’ll be in the lineup tomorrow,” Hyde said.
Merrifield’s home run was his ninth. Seven of his homers have come since July 6, when he went deep twice against the White Sox.
Blue Jays OF George Springer was held out of the starting lineup. Springer is hitless in 29 at-bats.
RHP Jordan Hicks, acquired from St. Louis on Sunday, joined the Blue Jays Monday.
Toronto placed RHP Jay Jackson on the family medical emergency list and recalled RHP Bowden Francis from Triple-A Buffalo. Jackson’s son JR was born prematurely earlier this month.
Blue Jays LHP Hyun Jin Ryu will be activated off the injured list to make his season debut on Tuesday. Ryu had Tommy John surgery in June 2022. RHP Kyle Bradish (6-6, 3.29 ERA) starts for Baltimore.
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