For six innings, hope was lost. The season was over. The sweep was inevitable. The Orioles continued a scoreless streak for their offense after being shut out yesterday and they looked lifeless against Andy Pettitte. Wei-Yin Chen struggled, turning in another short outing. All that changed in the seventh inning, when Pettitte ran out of gas and Yankees manager Joe Girardi turned to a parade of ineffective relievers.
Two three-run home runs later, one by J.J. Hardy and one by Adam Jones, and the Orioles stormed out to a 7-3 lead to avoid the sweep and keep their dim playoff hopes a little more alive for one more day.
This was not a game that looked like a victory for the Orioles. As they have done in so many recent games, they brought poor hitting along with poor pitching. Chen only lasted four innings, giving up five walks and four hits. That he only allowed three earned runs is something close to a miracle. It was not pretty, but he did limit the damage and eventually the offense broke through. It was not to Chen's benefit, but the team got the win it needed.
They finally broke open against Pettitte in the seventh inning. Pettitte had gone through six innings and only allowed five singles. The bats were flat. There was nothing happening. Then, abruptly, there was something. Newly-acquired Oriole Michael Morse led off with a single, his second hit of the day. Danny Valencia added another single. It's almost like there is something to the idea of stacking the lineup with right-handed hitters who hit well against lefties. That was the end for Pettitte and the reliever roulette began.
Unfortunately for Girardi and the Yankees, every reliever he summoned came up as a round in the chamber. Shawn Kelley came in to the game and gave up a single to Matt Wieters, scoring the O's first run. This might have seemed like a favorable match-up: Wieters batting left-handed is a struggle this year. No luck for Kelley. He then faced Hardy, who hit a fly ball to the opposite field that it looked like left fielder Curtis Granderson could catch at the fence. He jumped and the ball struck the very top of the fence.
This was the Yankee Stadium-est of Yankee Stadium home runs. It did not even make it into the seats. The ball rolled along the concrete wall. It still counts. The home run was Hardy's 24th of the season and it gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead at the time.
After Kelley came Boone Logan, the lefty in the Yankees bullpen. Brian Roberts outsmarted the Yankees by laying a beautiful bunt down the third-base line. He advanced to second when Nick Markakis walked. Given what happens when Markakis swings the bat, this was the best-case scenario. The LOOGY was a NOOGY today, and Logan gave way to Joba Chamberlain, who some Yankee fans refer to as the human white flag.
The thing about Chamberlain is he sucks this year. It's hard to fathom why anyone would think it is a good idea to bring him into a one-run game with two men on base. Manny Machado, either on his own or at the behest of the O's bench, attempted to bail out the Yankees with a bunt. It was a horrible decision and executed terribly: he popped out foul to the catcher. Why have Machado bunt? Why?
Lucky for the Orioles, Chamberlain was still involved prominently. He pitched to Jones. This, too, was a horrible decision. He made a mistake against a batter who will swing at anything and Jones did what he does to mistakes. He crushed the baseball to deep center field, 424 feet from home plate. This was Jones' 28th home run of the season and brought him up to 98 RBI for the year. It was the second Earl Weaver Special of the inning and gave the O's the 7-3 lead that held for a final score.
Of the four Yankees pitchers to pitch in the seventh, the only one to record any outs was Chamberlain, who would go two innings and had only one run charged to him - Jones.
With Chen chased early, the runs scored in support of Kevin Gausman, who pitched two innings in relief. He allowed a hit and a walk while striking out three, and showed plenty of flashes of why he is a top pitching prospect. Next he just has to do that as a starter instead of in relief. His change-up is a beautiful thing. He was credited with the win today, raising his record to 2-3. Kelley took the loss, dropping to 4-2.
Francisco Rodriguez, Tommy Hunter, and Darren O'Day all followed with a scoreless inning each. Hunter allowed two hits and that was that.
This was the first game all year that the Yankees lost at home when they led the game by at least two runs. They were up 3-0 thanks to a run-scoring single from Alfonso Soriano in the third inning, then a bases-loaded walk to Brett Gardner in the fourth inning that was followed by a sacrifice fly from Derek Jeter. The seven unanswered runs means they are now 32-1 in such games.
With Sunday's win, the Orioles are back in the first chasing position among the wild card contenders who are not in a playoff spot. They sit 3.5 games back with Oakland and Tampa Bay's game in progress at press time. An Oakland win would put the Orioles three games back at the end of the day. This is not insurmountable, but it is not an easy road, either. They are a half-game ahead of both Cleveland - who they play next - and the Yankees.