Looking to exchange places in the standings tonight, the Yankees drew first blood, and they didn't even need a hit to do it. Brett Gardner walked to lead off the game, then stole second base. Two consecutive groundouts put him across the plate.
The Orioles answered back two inning later. With two outs and Manny Machado and Brian Roberts on first and second, Chris Davis (who is merely mortal against lefties this season) doubled over the head of Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay. Roberts scored easily, and Machado also scored on a poor relay throw by Cano. 2-1 O's. Flash forward to the fourth, and lefty-killer Danny Valencia led off with a double. After Wieters struck out, J.J. Hardy worked a seven-pitch at-bat that ended with his own double. Valencia scored easily and it was 3-1 O's.
Meanwhile, Scott Feldman was continuing the fine work he displayed in his last outing. He cruised through the first four innings, giving up Gardner's run but, oddly enough, not a single hit. But after retiring 12 in a row, Curtis Granderson led off the top of the fifth with a long home run onto Eutaw Street. 3-2 O's, but Feldman got the next three outs to limit the damage. Alex Rodriguez, though, flashed his power yet again with a solo shot to tie it up in the sixth. 3-3 and we had ourselves a brand new ballgame, despite the O's eight hits to that point being far more than the Yankees' two.
Feldman would work 7 2/3 innings, striking out three and giving up two walks. In fact the pitch that ended his night was ball four to Gardner in the bottom of the eighth. With the 2-3-4 hitters due up and the game still tied, Buck Showalter didn't take any chances. He brought in Tommy Hunter, who has shut down righties this year (.144 wOBA allowed) and who got A-Rod to fly out to center for the final out.
"Ageless" Andy Pettitte was lucky to give up only three runs in this outing. Usually when you give up nine hits and don't strike out a lot of batters, you'll give up more than that. Similar to Feldman, Pettitte's last pitch ended up walking Nate McLouth in the bottom of the seventh with the score still tied. After 104 pitches, Joe Girardi had seen enough and brought in Shawn Kelley. After several pickoff attempts, Chris Stewart nailed McLouth stealing.
Despite a few pitching changes, the score remained tied heading into the ninth. But when you're Robinson Cano, a power-hitting lefty, facing Hunter, who's atrocious against lefties this year (.370 wOBA allowed), one pitch is all you need. Cano lifted a ball up and over the center field fence for the go-ahead run. 4-3 Yankees. Soriano grounded out, thanks to an amazing scoop-and-throw by Machado, but then Granderson tripled off the center-field fence to tighten the screws even further. Yeah, Tommy against lefties is not a situation you want, which is probably why Showalter pulled Hunter before Overbay could sting him further. Better to have Troy Patton face him. Still, Overbay singled and one more run came in against Hunter. 5-3 Yankees.
Mariano Rivera did pitch the ninth and got the save, but the Orioles probably made his heart beat a little bit faster. Hardy and pinch-hitter Nick Markakis went down without a fight, but McLouth doubled and Brian Roberts singled to plate another run. 5-4 Yankees. With the O's down to their final out, I didn't have much hope for Machado facing a guy who's old enough to be his father. Rivera had to know that unlike Roberts, Machado would be swinging aggressively, looking to tie the game up with one swing. Indeed, Machado took some pretty big hacks and ended up striking out for the final out.
We shouldn't overlook a strong performance by the offense. 13 hits is nothing to sneeze at, even if only four runs crossed the plate. Valencia went 4-4, Brian Roberts went 2-3, and McLouth went 2-3 with a walk. We should also acknowledge Feldman's pitching performance. Three runs in 7 2/3 innings is good, especially when you have six strikeouts against just two walks. Yeah, the two home runs weren't fun. But Feldman did his job tonight. The breaks just didn't go the O's way. I also fault Showalter for leaving Hunter in to face two power-hitting lefties. It really takes just one look at basic splits to know that the percentages are not in your favor there.
The loss drops the O's to 77-68 and they swap places with the Yankees in the standings. Wei-Yin Chen looks to hold the opposition down tomorrow to give the O's a chance to split the series.