The New York Yankees were staring a one-game lead in the American League East straight in the face after six and one half innings against their pursuer, the Baltimore Orioles. By the end of the seventh, they had the lead and could sense their tenuous division lead could swing back to three instead.
It had to be a great feeling in the Yankee clubhouse once Rafael Soriano sealed a 4-3 victory over the O’s. After looking dead in the water leading up to the bottom of the seventh yesterday, beginning with the first inning of Friday’s game, the Yankees caught a break and they capitalized on it.
For the second straight game, Baltimore’s starter kept the Yankees completely off the bases for the first three innings. Wei-Yin Chen retired the first eleven batters his faced while his team built a three-run lead off Yankees hurler David Phelps. But, Robinson Cano, who played a terrific game in the field, blasted his 28th home run of the season to left field to get the Yankees on the board.
Phelps was fortunate to only allow three runs in his 4.2 innings as he walked six and hit a batter. The wildness exhibited by Phelps was very uncharacteristic as he entered the game having walked only 21 batters through 70 innings this season, and 4 in his last 26.1. But, he managed to limit the Orioles to two runs due to the walks, one in the first and another in the second. Matt Wieters homered off Phelps in the fourth before giving way to the bullpen following two more walks in the fifth.
The bullpen was magnificent, beginning with Cody Eppley retiring Adam Jones on a line out to center stranding Phelps’ walks to end the fifth. Boone Logan pitched two strong innings allowing a single and an intentional walk which kept the Yankees within striking distance.
Steve Pearce got his first Yankee hit with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but Russell Martin flew out for the second out of the inning. It seemed as if Chen would finish them off once much like Miguel Gonzalez did the night before. But, Chen lost the strike zone walking Jayson Nix. Eduardo Nunez, called up yesterday as rosters expanded, dropped a single into center scoring Pearce and moving Nix to third. That was all for Chen as Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Pedro Strop.
Strop faced Ichiro Suzuki and the free-swinger drew a walk to load the bases. Derek Jeter was next and he was able to come back from a 0-2 count, fouling off a 97-mph fastball and then laying off a 98-mph fastball and two straight sliders to draw the walk and force in the tying run. Nick Swisher followed by lining a pitch up the middle but right at J.J. Hardy‘s feet. The ball tied Hardy up resulting in a bobble from the sure handed shortstop. The error allowed Nunez to score and the Yankees were on top for the first time in the series. David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Soriano dominated the Orioles in the ninth for his 35th save in 38 chances.
The Yankees (76-56) hope the turnaround in the seventh leads to some momentum heading into today’s series finale pitting Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02 ERA) against Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26). Hughes was moved up for today’s game as the Yankees benefited from the off day on Thursday. Hughes has pitched excellent at home recently winning six of his last seven starts and is 10-3 overall at the Stadium this season with a 3.25 ERA. Tillman is coming off a seven-inning zero-run and one-hit performance against the Chicago White Sox.