If the O's are going to be serious contenders in September and October, tonight's game was the kind they're going to have to win. Up 2-1 on a night when the offense wasn't there, when starter Miguel Gonzalez walked four but managed to keep all of them from scoring, and when he pitched out of a bases-loaded-and-one-out jam, they needed this win, but they didn't get it.
It's not all Jim Johnson's fault: the offense didn't come through at all, mustering only three hits and one walk all game, but Johnson did walk in the tying run and serve up a middle-of-the-plate fastball to Vernon Wells for the game winning hit. Hard not to feel bitterness towards him for that.
The game started off well for Yankees starter Ivan Nova and stayed that way. In the bottom of the first inning, he threw just 12 pitches, giving up a hit to Nick Markakis but striking out Nate McLouth and Adam Jones, the latter on the kind of slider low-and-away that Jones just can't seem to lay off of. (He'd see the exact same pitch in all his at-bats; he went 0-4). The Yankees responded by making Miguel Gonzalez work a bit; he threw 20 pitches in the first inning alone, forcing his pitch count up early, where it would stay until he left.
The Orioles put their offense together in the top of the second, when Chris Davis took one for the team (specifically, off his knee) and Matt Wieters brought them both home with an opposite-field, two-run home run that barely cleared the wall. If you were watching, I hope you savored this hit, because it'd be the last Orioles one until the sixth (!) inning. Ryan Flaherty and Brian Roberts both drove fly balls to center field for hard-hit outs. The Yankees didn't do anything of note in the bottom half, although Lyle Overbay walked for the first time in the game.
If you read the paragraph above, you already know the story of the tops of the third, fourth, and fifth innings. Not a single Oriole reached base, and they all struck out in the fifth. The fans (and viewers) were treated to some pretty amazing defense, though. Robinson Cano made two sweet plays in the top of the fourth, one when he seemed to just float over to a hard-hit ball and flick it (with just his wrist!) over to first to nail Jones, and another where he magically appeared behind first base to field a ball that got by Overbay and get Davis at first. How 'bout that.
In the bottom of the fourth, Gonzalez got Robinson Cano to hit a laser right at Davis for the first out. He then struck out Travis Hafner, but Wells singled and then Overbay got his second walk of the game. Luis Cruz, the backup-backup-backup shortstop, singled to left to score Wells. It was a tight play at the plate; McLouth made a great throw and Wieters made a great tag, but Wells juuuuuuuuuust managed to get his toe onto the plate before being tagged. I wouldn't have been surprised if Wells had been called out, but replays showed that Gary Darling made the correct call. 2-1 O's.
The bottom of the fifth brought a true test for Gonzalez and the O's. David Adams walked to lead off the inning. Brett Gardner then struck out, but Ichiro doubled to right field, sending Adams to third. With two on and one out, Showalter brought the IBB hammer out for Cano, much to the boos of fans at Yankee Stadium. They were right to boo, as the next batter Hafner hung in there for a 3-1 count but flew out to short center field. It was too short, in fact, for Adams to tag and thus the lead was preserved. Wells came up again, looking to play hero, but he was denied when he popped out to Davis in foul territory. It was a scary jam, one that left Miguel's pitch count at 92 while Nova stood at only 56.
But the score was still 2-1, and there it stayed until the ninth. While Nova worked for himself, ultimately striking out 11 and walking 1, Gonzalez gave way to Troy Patton, Darren O'Day, and eventually Johnson. It didn't start well as David Adams singled to right field. Speedy Gardner came to the plate, and although the O's were positioned correctly for a bunt, Johnson bobbled it and both runners were safe. Ichiro sacrificed both runners into scoring position, whereupon Cano was IBB'd again. Who knows what he would have done, but with one out and the bases loaded, Hafner got a FOUR. PITCH. WALK. that forced in Adams to tie the game. Blown save, but with one out and the bases loaded, there was still work to be done. Unfortunately, it was Vernon Wells who did it with an RBI single to bring Gardner in for the winning run. 3-2 Yanks.
The O's are still in second place but are now just a half-game ahead of the Yankees. They'll put Chris Tillman up against the ageless Andy Pettitte to try and stay ahead in the AL East.