CLEVELAND — The Orioles didn’t flash any leather Sunday. They didn’t make any plays that belonged in highlight packages or produce any game-changing hits.
On this day, they didn’t need that.
They beat the Guardians 5-1 behind a clean, well-pitched game, with starter Kyle Gibson going seven innings and the offense taking advantage of early control issues from Guardians starter Triston McKenzie. The Orioles went 4-3 on their last road trip of the regular season and will now return to Baltimore 97-59, their most wins since 1997.
Their magic number to win the AL East is three, and they can clinch as early Wednesday with either two Orioles wins and one Rays loss or one Baltimore win and two Tampa Bay losses. Both teams are off Monday.
“To end this long stretch with a 4-3 road trip, I don’t think people understand how hard and tough that is,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It shows the toughness of our team.”
For the second game in a row, the Orioles got at least seven innings from their starter, saving a fatigued bullpen from having to cobble together coverage as the team played for the 17th straight day. On Saturday, John Means went 7 1/3 innings, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh. A day later, Gibson, facing seven left-handed hitters, went into the eighth, facing one batter before his day ended. The bullpen was needed for only six outs, and Danny Coulombe and DL Hall had no problem getting those.
“I think they needed that,” Gibson said of the bullpen. “I know John and I were happy we were able to do that. The offense did a really good job again today, giving us a lead to work with, allowing Adley [Rutschman] and I to be aggressive in the strike zone. ... I wish I could have gotten through the eighth, but glad to give that bullpen only to have to cover six outs again today.”
Gibson allowed only two extra-base hits, doubles from José Ramírez in the fourth and David Fry in the eighth. The Guardians scored only one run off him, an RBI groundout in the fourth.
“He was able to use all his pitches, move his two-seam around,” Rutschman said. “Slider and changeup were working. He looked really good.”
This has been Gibson’s value all season, the ability to provide a solid start while eating up innings. Gibson, on a one-year, $10 million deal, had his 17th quality start. His stuff doesn’t always overpower opposing batters and he’s had his fair share of bad starts, but he’s consistently taken the ball every time he’s asked without showing signs of being overworked. He’s thrown 187 innings, and, with at least one start to go, could pass his career high of 196 2/3 set in 2018.
His spot in the postseason rotation isn’t guaranteed — in a playoff format, the Orioles may not need more than four starters — but his experience has been key for the young pitching corps.
“He’s been huge, both as a player, as a leader and a guy in the clubhouse,” Rutschman said. “I think, if you add up all of those things, he’s a massive part of what we’re doing.”
On the other side, the Orioles took advantage of McKenzie’s short outing. McKenzie walked six in the first two innings, the Orioles sending in three easy runs. Rutschman went 2-for-3 with two walks, extending his hitting streak to eight games. Both of his hits were doubles, giving him another 30-double season in his second major league year.
Cedric Mullins, who has quietly been showing frustrations with his performance at the plate, broke an 0-for-18 streak with an RBI single in the fifth.