Meet the new problem when it comes to facing the New York Yankees. Same as the old problem.
Yankee hitters last year left pitchers in orange and black feeling black and blue, and in their first chance of 2020, the Bronx Bombers picked up where they left off, smacking a trio of home runs off of starter Asher Wojciechowski and rolling to a 9-3 victory.
The Yankees have now won 17 straight games against the Orioles.
The Orioles showed life late, chasing Yankees starter Gerrit Cole - who flashed his Cy Young-caliber stuff all night - and forcing New York’s bullpen to finish the job, but the hole set up by home runs from DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks proved too deep to escape.
The familiar narrative - New York batted .303 and hit 61 home runs against the Orioles as a team last season - needed only two pitches to return. Wojciechowski got a strike past LeMahieu before the Yankees’ leadoff hitter who finished the night with four hits - drilled his next offering down the right field line and inside the foul pole for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead.
The first frame was also the inning from hell for Wojciechowski’s catcher, as Pedro Severino let his glove hand meander into the swing paths of both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, giving him a pair of welts but, more importantly, a pair of catcher’s interference calls that put the two sluggers on base. After Hicks was retired - though not before he fouled a ball back into the inside of Severino’s knee - Mike Ford flew out to score Judge and make it 2-0.
The Orioles got one of those runs back in the bottom of the first. Austin Hays walked, and two batters later scored on a Jose Iglesias double when Judge - playing in and clearly taking Baltimore’s .538-hitting dynamo lightly - wasn’t able to get to the line drive in time and the ball cleared his 6-foot-7 frame and rolled to the wall.
The Yankees went back to their old way of scoring runs in the third. First, Judge hit a towering fly ball off of Wojciechowski that carried over the left field wall for his first home run of the season. The damage got worse when Stanton walked on a close 3-2 pitch and Wojciechowski let a fastball drift up in the zone to Hicks, who pummeled it over the right field wall for a 5-1 lead.
The lead was stretched further in the sixth against Evan Phillips. A leadoff walk to Ford came back to hurt the Orioles, as LeMahieu rapped an RBI single to center and Judge had another run-scoring hit to make it 7-1.
A Stanton RBI single and Paul Fry wild pitch that scored Judge, both coming in the ninth, rounded out the Yankees’ scoring.
Despite the loss, this wasn’t the kind of avert-your-eyes affair the Orioles played with the Yankees often last season. Even with the early damage and after seeing one of baseball’s best pitchers mow down 14 consecutive hitters, Baltimore was able to make New York sweat a little bit in the seventh. Renato Nunez broke the consecutive out streak with a two-out double into the left field corner, and Dwight Smith Jr. followed that up by turning on a Cole pitch and cranking it over the right field wall, trimming the deficit to 7-3.
Severino followed by grounding a double just inside the third base line, forcing New York to turn the game over to its bullpen. D.J. Stewart kept the rally going with a walk, but the comeback attempt fizzled when Austin Hays, after a bad call on an 0-1 breaking ball, flew to Judge in right for the third out.
Pat Valaika’s one-out single in the eighth couldn’t ignite another rally, and the final two New York runs slammed the door on the night for the Orioles.
The final was 9-3, but it might as well have been 3-1 - the Yankees went deep three times, the Orioles did so only once, and that’s how you find yourself outhit only 6-5 but trailing 7-3 going into the ninth.
The home runs also took away any chance Wojciechowski had of posting a good line, but the righthander did look impressive at times. He allowed four hits and struck out seven in five innings and navigated out of bouts of trouble, but just couldn’t keep the ball in the yard.
It’s a familiar refrain in Baltimore when these two teams meet.