TORONTO (AP) — Joe Saunders began pondering perfection just one inning into his latest start.
Saunders and three relievers combined on a three-hitter and the charging Baltimore Orioles blanked Toronto 4-0 Monday, cutting their AL East deficit to one game.
"(Saunders) was the difference today," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles, who took two of three at Yankee Stadium over the weekend, moved even closer to New York. The Yankees lost 4-3 at Tampa Bay.
J.J. Hardy drove in two runs as the Orioles won for the eighth time in 10 games. The one-game gap marks the closest anyone has been to the Yankees since mid-June.
Acquired recently from Arizona, Saunders (1-1) retired the first 17 Blue Jays batters before hanging a changeup to nine-hole hitter Adeiny Hechavarria, who lined a two-out single to center in the sixth.
Saunders acknowledged he'd long been dreaming of the possibility of a perfect game or no-hitter.
"You think about it," he said, smiling. "I thought about it after the first. I was like 'Ooh, nice. I didn't give up a hit in the first.'"
Baltimore, which had lost four in a row at Toronto, collected its eighth shutout of the season. The Orioles have won 20 of 28 overall.
Saunders bounced back nicely from his Baltimore debut, when he allowed six runs in 5 1-3 innings in a loss to the White Sox.
"When I got traded over here they had a great thing going," Saunders said. "You just want to come over here and contribute as much as you can. You don't want to mess it up and get blown up a lot."
After Hechavarria's hit, Rajai Davis followed with a walk, but Saunders struck out Colby Rasmus to end the inning. Saunders allowed three hits in 6 1-3 innings. He walked two and struck out two.
"Today he settled in a little bit more," catcher Matt Wieters said. "He was definitely in control the whole game and was able to mix in different off-speed pitches."
Luis Ayala replaced Saunders after the Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Ayala escaped by fanning rookie Moises Sierra and getting Jeff Mathis to fly out.
Pedro Strop worked the eighth and Jim Johnson finished for Baltimore, who were playing their third straight day game and riding an emotional wave after their big weekend series in the Bronx.