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Orioles rally, then let lead slip away in ninth in 4-3 defeat to Yankees

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Austin Hays hits two home runs, including the go-ahead blast, but Yankees answer back with two runs in final at-bat.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Austin Hays ripped a home run, his second of the night and a two-run shot, and the Orioles had the lead over the New York Yankees with only three outs to go.

That’s a formula for victory for most teams. For the Orioles, though, it was the formula for bad luck, bad baseball, and yet another defeat.

The Orioles showed again Wednesday night that they are positively gifted at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, taking a lead into the ninth and promptly letting it slip away en route to a 4-3 loss to the Yankees.

Baltimore is now 46-99 for the season. It’s starting to look like it may be a triple-digit-loss season at Camden Yards this year.

It looked like it was going to end up that way for most of the night, but Baltimore teased however many fans were in the midst of the Yankee-friendly crowd with a late comeback. With Chad Green on the mound, No. 9 hitter Austin Wynns smacked a fastball to right for a single, and Cedric Mullins followed by ripping a line drive to second baseman Gleyber Torres that he couldn’t hang on to and - bewilderingly - threw to first, retiring Mullins but allowing Wynns to reach second base and scoring position.

Ultimately, the good fortune was moot, as Hays two batters later drove a Green offering on an 0-2 count over the left field wall for his 20th home run of the season. Orioles 4, Yankees 3. Big hit. Big moment. Everyone was happy.

But the game wasn’t over. Baltimore still had a chance to Oriole it up. And it did just that.

Tyler Wells started by breaking the cardinal rule of closing and walking the leadoff hitter, putting Luke Voit on to start the ninth. Torres followed with a hit up the middle, and after Gary Sanchez flew to center, the Yankees pulled off a double steal, with pinch-runner Tyler Wade swiping third and Torres taking second.

The stage was set for an Orioles specialty: bad luck at a bad time. Wells got two strikes on Brett Gardner, and the Yankee center fielder popped a seemingly harmless fly to shallow center that should have been the second out, were it not for one problem: the infield was in.

Shortstop Richie Martin raced into the outfield and came just short of catching the ball on a slide away from the infield, but it fell safely and both Wade and Torres - who got a great read on the play - scored to give the Yankees the lead.

Blown save, and blown game. The Orioles escaped the inning without further damage thanks to a pair of wonderful defensive plays from Pat Valaika and a great display in plate blocking from Wynns, but they didn’t muster up a threat against Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the ninth.

It was a goofy ending - I didn’t even go into the fact that an umpire threw out the grounds crew in the middle of all this nonsense - that overshadowed a good pitchers’ duel between John Means and Nestor Cortes Jr. Means pitched well, going 5.2 innings while allowing four hits and two earned runs while striking out four. He made one mistake, a 1-2 curveball that didn’t quite fall enough and Gio Urshela smashed 397 feet for a two-run homer and a 2-0 lead in the third.

Actually, Means made another mistake, but his teammate helped him out. In the second, Sanchez hit a towering fly to deep center that was headed over the wall, but Mullins made a terrific catch to keep it in the yard. Everything about it was great, from Mullins’s awareness of the wall and timing of his jump, to using the top of the fence for leverage, and finally to making the snag. Awesome play. I, for one, think he’s pretty good.

So Means was solid. But Cortes was better. The Orioles couldn’t hit the mustachioed menace, striking out 11 times in his 6.1 innings of work and managing only three hits. Dealing from a somewhat-sidearm delivery, Cortes deftly mixed speeds and locations - he struck out Ryan Mountcastle on a particularly devilish 70 mile-per-hour offering - and had the Orioles off-balance all night.

“If I’m (pitching coach) Chris Holt, I’m taking this first five-and-a-third innings and showing it to my young lefties,” Jim Palmer said, “because this is pitching.”

Hays, however, got the O’s on the board, blasting a Cortes pitch 420 feet into the Baltimore bullpen in the sixth. There was life. There was hope. Then, after Hays batted later on in the eighth, there was more hope.

But, as the late, great Norm Macdonald quipped, “Hope is never good.” With the 2021 Orioles, that’s often been all too true.