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Slumping Blue Jays drops series opener to Orioles

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, left, walks off the field after striking out swinging for the third out of the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Thursday, June 12, 2014, in Baltimore.

Patrick Semansky/AP

It rained heavily throughout the afternoon here on Thursday and for a while there were concerns that it might drag into the evening and wreak havoc on the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

The Blue Jays were sending veteran Mark Buehrle to the mound, a notoriously fast worker, so Toronto manager John Gibbons said he wasn't really concerned what might transpire should there be any delays.

"It might be Buehrle's first three hour game ever – an hour and 15 minutes is rain delay," the Toronto manager quipped beforehand.

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The weather managed to co-operate and Buehrle worked in his usual brisk fashion, but things did not exactly go down as Gibbons or the Blue Jays had hoped.

The rain stopped just before game time but the skies stayed ominously overcast, which was fitting for the Blue Jays (39-29) who were cuffed around 4-2 by the Orioles (34-31) at Camden Yards, Toronto's third loss in a row and fifth in its last seven outings.

Toronto's lead in the American League East has now been shaved to 3.5-games.

Buehrle, who had won 10 of his first 12 starts, has now lost two in a row as Toronto's best pitcher continued an alarming team trend of surrendering early home runs.

After Nick Markakis singled leading off the game for Baltimore, Delmon Young followed him to the plate and crunched a Buehrle offering over the wall in left field for a quick 2-0 lead.

It marked the fourth consecutive game that Blue Jay pitchers have surrendered a home run to the opposition in the first inning, and once again Toronto was forced to try and play catch-up.

Suddenly the word prolonged slump jumps to mind as the Blue Jay batters continue to be underwhelming as the club that leads the Major Leagues in home runs has now gone three straight without.

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The Blue Jays only managed seven hits in the contest.

The game was the first of a 10-game road trip for the Blue Jays, who are hoping to prove that their recent struggles represented just a little blip on the scale of an otherwise strong season so far.

The Blue Jays came to Baltimore having been shutout three times in their previous five outings.

And what better way to send a message that you're back than by beating up on a couple of the divisional rivals who are not exactly enjoying the view from down under.

After playing four in Baltimore the Blue Jays will move on to New York for three games against the Yankees. After that the Blue Jays will wind up their trip with three games against the Cincinnati Reds.

Both the Orioles and the Yankees trailed Toronto by 4.5-games for first place in the A.L. East heading into play on Thursday.

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Gibbons would never admit that a series or two in June over the course of a 162-game regular season was the be-all to end-all.

But he said that if there was a time for the Blue Jays to recover their stride, right about now would probably be appropriate.

"It's only June but it's a tight race and we haven't been playing particularly well lately," Gibbons said before the game. "So it would be a good time for us to get going again."

With Buehrle struggling early to command his pitches with his accustomed pinpoint accuracy, a deadly sin for a pitcher whose pitches rarely cracks the 85-mile-an-hour barrier, the Orioles extended their lead to 3-0 in the second inning.

Manny Machado doubled to rightfield, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored easily on a single by Caleb Joseph.

Buehrle settled down after that and only allowed two Baltimore hits over the next four innings but the slumbering Toronto bats would not awaken.

Buehrle, now 10-3 on the year, exited the game after working 6.1 innings, allowing all four Baltimore runs off eight hits.

In contrast to Buehrle's slow balls, the Blue Jays were dealing with the heat of Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman, who pushed the gauge close to 100 on a couple of occasions.

Gausman (2-1) was in control in making just his third start of the season, and allowed one Toronto run off five hits through six innings of work.

His only bump along the road came in the fifth when Juan Francisco stroked a double to right-centre leading off.

Anthony Gose laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Francisco to third and he scored Toronto's lone run on a single to centre by Melky Cabrera that cut Baltimore's lead to 3-1.

Baltimore made it 4-1 in the seventh when Jonathan Schoop came in to score on a hard-hit double off the wall in left field by Nick Markakis.

Edwin Encarnacion grounded out in the Toronto eighth to score Jose Bautista from third to conclude the scoring for the Blue Jays.

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