In the recent past, splitting an 18-game season series with the New York Yankees would have been considered a rallying point.
Not this year, not when so much is at stake including potential home-field advantage possibilities in the playoffs.
So the 13-3 beatdown administered by the Yankees on Sunday carried with it no solace that the Orioles finished the season 9-9 against the division’s behemoth, only the second time they’ve not had a losing record against the Bronx Bombers in 15 seasons.
“It’s not the past anymore,” said Orioles right fielder Chris Davis. “I think the biggest thing for us is to continue to focus on what we’ve been doing all year. And that’s playing good baseball. The one thing about the past is you can draw from the experiences you’ve had. We know that we are a better ballclub now and we expect better of ourselves.”
Instead of falling one game back in the AL East, the Orioles (78-62) had a chance to take a one-game lead over New York (79-61) on Sunday, in front of another loud, announced crowd of 40,346. They also had a chance to guarantee that, at season’s end, a one-game playoff would occur at Camden Yards if they were tied for the division or for the Wild Card with the Yankees.
With the season series split, however, potential home-field advantage for any one-game playoff between the two clubs will be determined by which one has a better divisional record — the Orioles have a three-game lead in that category, but still have 16 AL East games remaining.
Winning home-field advantage for a playoff tiebreaker is not currently on Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s radar.
“Right now, we’re trying to get in there clean,” Showalter said. “Trying to make [a tiebreaker] not matter.”
On Sunday, the Yankees reminded the Orioles that they are still the team to beat, despite an un-Yankee-like dominance for much of 2012.
“You think the Yankees are going to give it away?” Adam Jones said. “No.”
And the Orioles also learned what life post-Nick Markakis — who was lost for the season with a broken left thumb Saturday and will have surgery Tuesday in hopes that he will be able to play at some point in a potential postseason run — would be like.
While the Yankees pounded Orioles’ pitching for 13 runs on 14 hits and eight walks, the Orioles’ offense managed just four hits against a scuffling Freddy Garcia and four Yankee relievers. They scored in just one inning, the fourth, when Wilson Betemit had a two-run double and Matt Wieters added an RBI single against Garcia.
“Their offense kind of left us in the dust for a little bit,” Davis said. “We were trying to claw back, but we just didn’t have enough left in the tank.”
Both starting pitchers didn’t get out of the fourth. The difference was that the Yankees had already scored five times before chasing Zach Britton.
Most of Britton’s problems were self-inflicted.
The Orioles lefty gave up a two-out RBI single to Robinson Cano in the first and then retired the next seven before a disastrous fourth inning in which he allowed three hits and four walks. Twice he walked a batter with the bases loaded to force in a run.
“I kind of just beat myself around today with the walks,” said Britton (5-2), who was charged with five runs in 3 1/3 innings. “Kind of screwed up the whole rhythm of the game for the whole team. You’re out there for a long inning, lot of walks going on. They get a little frustrated, too. It was just a bad tempo of the game that I kind of set out.”
Britton (5-2) had walked just four batters in his past three starts and had given up three earned runs in his past four starts. Against the Yankees, however, Britton continues to struggle. In six starts versus New York, he is 1-3 with a 7.82 ERA.
His line could have been worse, but Jake Arrieta entered a bases loaded jam in the fourth and struck out Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez. Making his first big league relief appearance after 58 career starts, Arrieta allowed three runs in three innings, including Curtis Granderson’s 100th homer as a Yankee.
It was the Orioles’ most lopsided loss since dropping a 19-7 game to the Minnesota Twins on July 16. It was the most runs the Orioles had allowed since losing 14-9 to the Oakland A’s on July 27.
They are now one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild-Card race. The Rays head to Camden Yards on Tuesday for a three-game series as winners of six of eight in September.
“You can make a case they’re as good as any pitching staff in baseball,” Showalter said of the Rays (77-63). “Runs are going to be at a premium, and our pitching staff is going to have to match some, given the good outings that they’re going to throw at you.”
So even if the Orioles wanted to dwell on losing the chance to take a season series from the Yankees, they can’t. Because this isn’t about holding their own against the Yankees anymore.
“Everybody is getting better. There have been juggernauts and big dogs in teams. But now everybody is getting better as a team,” Jones said. “You can’t just guarantee the Yankees are gonna get this or the Red Sox are this. In different divisions, you can’t guarantee that [the Los Angeles Angels] or Texas are this because every other team is that much more competitive and better.”
Therefore, the focus is now the Rays, in a series Jones calls “huge.”
“We have 22 games left, something like that,” he said. “Every inning, every pitch is important from here on out, pretty much.”