NEW YORK — After careful research and tedious tweaks to the starting rotation schedule over the past month, the Orioles aligned their rotation so that right-hander Miguel Gonzalez could start the team's series opener at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
Gonzalez had dominated in the Bronx, pitching to a 2.20 ERA in five previous outings, including an strong American League Division Series start here last season. But Friday's 8-5 loss to the Yankees before an announced 45,169 was a painful lesson that the playoff race isn't played on paper.
Gonzalez was chased from the game before getting an out in the fifth inning, sending the Orioles to their third loss in their first four games of this critical nine-game road trip to Boston, New York and Cleveland. They must now win their final two games at Yankee Stadium to avoid their seventh series loss in their past 12.
With Friday's defeat, the Orioles (71-62) fell to 7 ½ games out of first place in the AL East and failed to gain any ground in the wild-card chase with just 29 games left in the regular season.
“People can say what they want,” said Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, who had a team-high three hits on the night. “I like our chances, I like the position we're in. We do well under pressure. We know what we're up against, we just got to keep fighting. We still have a lot of baseball left. Anything can happen in this game.”
Working after his longest layoff between starts this season — he went nine days between starts and worked two brief relief stints in between — Gonzalez (8-7) allowed a season-high seven earned runs on six hits in four-plus innings.
“The first three innings were about as good as you'd want to see,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Some things just don't make a whole lot of sense, but you don't dwell on them. We learn from them.”
Over the first four games of the road trip, Orioles starters have pitched to a 8.10 ERA (18 earned runs in 20 innings), and that includes Chris Tillman's seven-inning, two-run gem Thursday in Boston.
Gonzalez held the Yankees (71-63) hitless for 3 2/3 innings, but his night quickly unraveled, thanks to first-pitch two-run homers by Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki.
After facing the minimum through 11 batters, Gonzalez issued a four-pitch walk to Robinson Cano. Soriano then took a fastball the opposite way into the right-field stands to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. It was Soriano's 12th homer in 32 games since the Yankees traded for him on July 26.
“I don't know,” Gonzalez said. “I can't even explain it. It was a tough one. Tough one. First couple of innings, everything was moving well. All of a sudden in the fourth inning, I make a good pitch to Soriano. You've got to tip your hat sometimes. He went the other way with it.”
Markakis opened the fifth with an infield single off Yankees lefty CC Sabathia. Then Orioles designated hitter Danny Valencia took a 1-1 pitch into the Orioles bullpen in left-center for his sixth homer of the season, giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead. Four of Valencia's six homers this season have given the Orioles the lead. A two-out RBI single by Manny Machado made it a 4-2 game.
But that lead would be short-lived, as Gonzalez was chased from the game in a five-run bottom of the fifth.
Curtis Granderson and former Oriole Mark Reynolds opened the frame with back-to-back doubles, quickly cutting the lead to one. Then Ichiro slapped a two-run homer into the right-field seats that turned that one-run Orioles lead into a one-run deficit.
Gonzalez continued to struggle, allowing a double to No. 9 hitter Austin Romine, a single to Brett Gardner and a walk to Derek Jeter to lead the bases. Lefty T.J. McFarland entered and allowed a two-run single to Robinson Cano to give the Yankees a 7-4 lead.
“[Gonzalez] just lost command there and it happens,” Showalter said. “He's not the only guy that it's ever happened to. ... It got away from him. A lot of times he might do it for a hitter in the past and he gets right back in stride. He just couldn't seem to get back into a consistent release point."
The Orioles cut the gap to two on Markakis' two-out RBI single in the sixth, which scored Jones from second, but the Yankees added another insurance run in the Alex Rodriguez's two-out RBI single in the seventh. Sabathia (12-11) earned the win despite allowing five runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings.
“We're playing our division,” Valencia said. “We're playing guys who we're battling for our division and the wild card. Every gam means something. It seems like an emotional roller coaster when you're playing these games — lots of ups and downs — but we just have to keep playing good baseball.”
Chris Davis gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the fourth with a two-out RBI single. It gave him 122 RBIs on the season, the fifth highest single-season total in club history, tying Frank Robinson's AL-leading total in 1966.
With two games remaining in the Bronx, the Orioles look to have a short memory and aim to put another frustrating loss behind them.
“Move to the next day,” Markakis said. “You can't change what's happened. All of us are focused on tomorrow and coming out [Saturday] and getting a ‘W.' We got a lot of baseball left. We got, what,  games left? It's a tight division, a tight race. We're not out of it until they say we're out of it. So we are going to take that mentality, put everything else behind us and move to the next day.”