First the wind came, then the rain, and then the wait.
While the Orioles waited through a 2-hour, 22-minute rain delay at Camden Yards, Sunday night turned into Monday morning. Inside the Orioles clubhouse, players kept watch of the clocks, ready to disperse across the country for the All-Star break after the game.
“It was kind of crazy,” Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman said. “I made the joke, 'We're pretty much on the All-Star break."
Eleven minutes after midnight, the game officially was called, giving the Orioles a 3-1 victory over the division rival New York Yankees. And for the first time in 17 seasons, the Orioles head into the All-Star break in an unfamiliar position: atop the American League East division.
Following their rain-shortened victory over the Yankees in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN and an announced 34,483 at Camden Yards, the Orioles took a four-game lead on the second-place Toronto Blue Jays and sent the Yankees five games back.
“I think it’s something to be proud of to be this deep in the season and be in the position we’re in,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who snapped out of an 0-for-13 slump with a two-run homer in the fourth inning. “We have the goal of going out and winning the division this year. We didn’t want to creep into the playoffs. We wanted to kind of control our own destiny, so to speak, and we’re definitely in the driver’s seat right now and hopefully we can keep it going.”
With the win Sunday night, the Orioles (52-42) head into the break 10 games over .500 and winners of 10 of their last 13 games. They’ve taken six of nine meetings with the Yankees (47-47) this season.
When play resumes to start the second half Friday on the West Coast as the Orioles open a three-city, 10-game road trip in Oakland, the rest of the division will be giving chase.
But Orioles manager Buck Showalter said his team still has much to prove. The schedule will be a challenge. The Orioles start the second half with 29 straight games against teams with a record of .500 or better.
“It’s almost like we may be in first place right now, but we still feel like we are hunting something as opposed to somebody [hunting] us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Gausman allowed a home run to the first batter he faced as Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner took the fourth pitch of the night onto the flag court, but he recovered to earn his first complete game in the major leagues, albeit a shortened one.
“Complete game in 78 pitches, I think that's gotta be a record," Gausman joked.
Gausman (4-2) held the Yankees to one run and four hits in five innings. Following Brian McCann’s leadoff single in the second inning, Gausman retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced, including the last seven in a row.
Despite being optioned four times this season, mainly in order to give the Orioles necessary bullpen relief, Gausman continued to make strides Sunday. He has allowed one or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, going 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA over that span.
The Orioles are in first place even though first baseman Chris Davis has been mired in a first-half slump, batting just .199 heading into the All-Star break.
And Davis snapped the Orioles’ 12-inning scoreless streak with a two-run homer in a three-run fourth inning that proved to be the difference.
After Nelson Cruz drew a leadoff walk in the fourth, Davis hit a 1-1 fastball from Yankees right-hander Chase Whitley the opposite way for his 15th homer of the season and just his second homer in the past three weeks.
“I kind of told myself before the game starts tonight, even though the second half starts in a few days, this would be a good time to try to start something up and turn it around a little bit,” Davis said. “Swing felt good, the pitch was inside, and I was able to finally do what I’ve been trying to do. So that’s a positive. I think it will really help to have four days off, rest, give my body a little time to recover and get back after it.”
Jonathan Schoop put the Orioles up, 3-1, with a two-out single that scored J.J. Hardy, who hit a double to left field after Davis’ homer.
Schoop’s hit chased Whitley, who was making the start in place of injured right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, from the game. He allowed three runs and five hits over 3 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and two walks.
“That’s one of the few games we’ve played lately that we scored early, too, which is huge,” Davis said. “We've been talking about that for a while, getting a little bit of a cushion early, so our starters don’t feel like they have to go out there and grind every inning. Give them a little breathing room, and we were able to do that.”
In the top of the fifth inning, it became clear a storm was bearing down on Camden Yards. A strong wind lifted trash from the seating bowl and spun it in the air. Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis had to make a last-minute dive to catch a routine flyout that was pushed by the wind.
“It was weird,” Gausman said. “I felt it just before I threw the pitch. I turned around and there was trash everywhere on the field. ‘What happened? Has the field been like this the whole game?’ Yeah, it was kind of weird.”
Moments later, a downpour began and never stopped. But it wasn’t until after midnight when the game was called. Plans were made to get the team’s All-Stars to Minneapolis on managing partner Peter G. Angelos’ private plane on an 8 a.m. flight Monday as other players went their separate ways for the break.
They’ll reassemble later for a workout Thursday evening in Oakland atop the division but knowing they're still far away from their collective goal.
“Going into break, we all feel pretty good about what we’ve done the first half,” Gausman said. “It’s not going to mean anything if we don’t have a solid second half, too.”
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