BALTIMORE -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter did his best Tuesday afternoon to deflect the question about his club's dwindling magic number, saying that -- for now, at least -- it's more a figure for fans to focus on.
Perhaps it is. But if Baltimore keeps this up, Showalter will have a hard time keeping such a straight face. The first-place O's -- who waited out a pair of rain delays that equaled more than two hours -- show no signs of slowing down, piling on five early runs before holding on to beat the Reds, 5-4, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. With the win that stretched into early Wednesday morning, the O's increased their American League East lead to 9 1/2 games over the second-place Yankees.
That magic number, which is any combination of Orioles wins and New York losses, was whittled down to 17, as the Orioles (80-57) are in an enviable spot with just 25 games to go.
But this latest victory was hardly easy, with Reds outfielder Jay Bruce's eighth-inning grand slam keeping things close and the O's squeaking it out on Jonathan Schoop's game-ending double play that came with the potential tying run 90 feet away.
"Tough call whether to play the infield up or back, but Jon made a heck of a play there," Showalter said of Schoop's heads-up move to tag baserunner Billy Hamilton and throw to first, a call that was ruled to stand after a Reds challenge. "Wasn't really close. I don't know why -- I thought they weren't able to challenge that at a certain point. I was surprised they even went through it."
Closer Zach Britton, who picked up his 32nd save in 35 opportunities, watched some well-placed ground balls put runners on the corners with one out, before Todd Frazier bounced a ball to Schoop to seal the win.
"You know as a baserunner that you absolutely cannot be tagged there," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It's the only way they're going to turn two in that situation, at least a traditional tag and throw to first to prevent the run scoring from third base."
Winners of five of their last six, the Orioles were led by a solid six-inning outing from starter Bud Norris and moved within three games of the Angels for the best record in baseball.
"I knew I was in a situation," said Norris, who waited out a 23-minute delay to start the game, and another one-hour, 46-minute stoppage to record his first out after Hamilton's infield single and stolen base leading off the game. "Big guy on second [in Hamilton] and couple of righties there, it couldn't have worked out any better to get a first-pitch ground ball to first. That inning couldn't have worked out any better to get a little momentum on our side, which I'm trying to do. I was pretty jazzed up, and it went from there.
Norris, who watched Hamilton get called out trying to steal third, kept the Reds in check all night. The right-hander gave up just four hits and one walk in a scoreless seven-strikeout night.
"That was pretty impressive to go out there," Showalter said of Norris not letting the disruption bother him. "One of the keys to the game was that inning. ... We seemed to get a lot of momentum out of that."
The Orioles rode that momentum to the tune of four runs, jumping Reds starter Matt Latos for five runs total before he could record four outs.
Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza -- making his Orioles debut -- started the game with a pair of singles and, one out later, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis drove them in. The Orioles increased their lead to three with a Jimmy Paredes groundout, and Caleb Joseph drove in the fourth run with a single to center.
Schoop pushed the lead to five with a leadoff homer in the second, his 13th of the year.
"They did a nice job of putting the ball in play," Price said of the Orioles' well-placed hits. "A lot of times, good things happen when you're able to put the ball in play. They stayed in the middle of the diamond and did some good things against [Latos]. They just kept battling through their at-bats to get those four runs and a bunch of base hits."
After O's reliever Tommy Hunter tossed a 1-2-3 seventh, Darren O'Day -- who entered the day with a 0.91 ERA -- ran into some trouble in the eighth that ended with Bruce's grand slam. O'Day, charged with three earned runs given Paredes' throwing error, recorded one more out before righty Brad Brach finished the frame.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.