TORONTO -- The Orioles came to Toronto for a series that was pegged by onlookers as the most important of the season to date for the division rivals.
The Orioles traveled north of the border with a four-game lead over the Blue Jays in the American League East and an eye on increasing that margin over the three-game set. On Thursday, one swing of the bat by Caleb Joseph accomplished that.
The 28-year-old had the night off Wednesday, but Joseph came back with a blast as he homered in his fourth consecutive game and gave the Orioles all the offense they needed in a 2-1 series-clinching victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The win increased the Orioles' lead in the AL East to five games.
"These are big games," said Joseph, whose two-run shot over the left field wall in the fourth inning tied a club record for consecutive games with a home run by catcher, previously done by Ramon Hernandez (2006) and Gus Triandos (1959). "[Toronto is] right behind us, and when you play head to head games, the lead swings really quick. They're a good team and they're gonna be right on our tails for pretty much the whole year. They do a lot of things right, and we knew we had to come in here and take care of business."
Taking care of business seems to be Joseph's and the Orioles' mantra, lately anyway. Baltimore has won six straight series and five of seven games in August. Since the All-Star break, the club is 13-7.
Joseph, meanwhile, is 13-for-38 with four homers and seven RBIs in his last 11 games after struggling at the plate earlier in the season. He hit two homers in the series against the Blue Jays, and over his homer streak he's gone 6-for-14.
For all the work he's done at the dish, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Joseph has proven to be solid defensively, which could account for more confidence with the bat.
"It takes a little weight off him offensively," Showalter said. "He's not going to take his lack of experience or his so-so slow start and his good catching as an excuse not to hit."
While Joseph's homer paced Baltimore, Miguel Gonzalez got the job done on the mound for the visitors as he improved to 6-6 on the season with a six-inning, four-hit performance. He's 5-2 in in nine career starts against the Blue Jays and has surrendered three or fewer earned runs in each of his last eight starts vs. Toronto.
Aside from surrendering a solo homer to Anthony Gose in the bottom of the fifth, the right-hander was able to stay out of trouble for the most part. But he admitted the uncertainty of pitching in a tight match makes him squeeze the ball a little tighter on the mound.
"You never know what's going to happen out there as soon as you let go of the baseball," Gonzalez said. "Having that 2-1 ballgame gives me a little more focus and control to try and make better pitches and not do too much."
Gonzalez came out of the game after the sixth and turned the ball over to the bullpen, which steered the ship the rest of the way without allowing a hit.
Andrew Miller, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton combined for three innings and one walk to finish off the Blue Jays.
Hits were a premium on both sides, as Toronto starter J.A. Happ delivered a solid outing, going eight innings while allowing five hits and ringing up a career-high 12 strikeouts in the loss.
He found trouble in the early innings, but several times pitched himself out of tight spots.
Nick Markakis led off the game with a double before Happ plunked Manny Machado to put two on with nobody out. But the left-hander retired three straight to escape the frame.
A one-out double from Chris Davis in the second gave the O's another man in scoring position, but Happ recorded back-to-back strikeouts to get out of that jam.
"I got myself into some trouble early. I just tried to relax, tried to make pitches and tried to execute and not put quite as much pressure on myself," said Happ (8-6). "Trying to do that. Once I let go, it's up in the air, what's going to happen is going to happen. I'm trying to execute pitches out there and take a little load off myself and I think that is helping a little bit mentally."
Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.