If you weren't certain before, Wednesday night at Camden Yards confirmed it: The American League East is officially on its ear.
It was the Orioles who bided their time against a filthy starter, battered the underbelly of the opposition's bullpen and moved further ahead in the division standings.
With a 5-3 comeback victory paced by eighth-inning home runs from Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones, the Orioles pulled a Yankee on the New York Yankees.
“We are just playing good baseball,” said Jones, whose two-out, three-run blast landed in the Orioles' bullpen. “We know who the opponent is. But we try to look past that. And just try and beat whoever the opponent is — no matter what the name on the jersey is.”
The Orioles (69-50) now sit an impressive eight games ahead of the third-place Yankees (61-58) in a quest for their first AL East crown in 17 years. The Orioles have won eight of 11 against New York this year with eight games remaining between the clubs. If they win just two more, the Orioles will have captured the season series for the first time since 1997.
“Awesome,” said Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who allowed just two runs in a seven-inning no-decision. “Any time you're 8-3 against any team in the East, that's good. Especially them.”
Even with Tuesday's rainout shortening the series to two games, the Orioles now have won eight consecutive series and have moved to 30-19 against division foes. They won despite playing without injured starting shortstop J.J. Hardy, who could be back later this week, and starting third baseman Manny Machado, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a sprained right knee ligament.
“This club is a lot like the city. It's a very proud club,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Everybody here's had their nose bloodied, and you've got a choice to make. Tonight, the way they were pitching, we knew it was going to be a challenge. But the key was keeping it close where there was just a small margin for error.”
It was a strange juxtaposition, because it was the Yankees who obviously were desperate for a win. It showed in manager Joe Girardi's decision to bring in his best reliever, All-Star right-hander Dellin Betances, in the sixth with a one-run lead in an attempt to squeeze three innings out of him.
The move paid off initially, with Betances striking out the side in the sixth after allowing a leadoff single. He was perfect in the seventh and was sent out again in the eighth. After getting one more out and tying his career high with 2 1/3 innings pitched, Betances faced Schoop, who slammed a breaking ball just over the left field wall to tie the game at 2-2.
“His pitch count wasn't too high,” Girardi said of Betances, who threw 33 pitches after not appearing in a game since Friday. “Unfortunately, breaking ball inside and [Schoop] hit the ball out.”
It was Schoop's 11th homer this season and fourth against the Yankees. The rookie is now batting .380 (11-for-29) with 11 RBIs against New York in his career.
“I just believed in myself there. I wanted to do something special today,” Schoop said. “I might take this guy deep I was telling Manny [Machado], and I achieved it.”
Reliever Shawn Kelley (2-4) entered for Betances and allowed a one-out single to Nick Markakis, walked Chris Davis and then served up Jones' 23rd homer of the season. The announced crowd of 37,587 erupted as a demonstrative Jones pumped his fist and then exchanged hard high-fives with his teammates.
“Big spot, big home run. ESPN game. Everybody watching,” Jones said. “I play the game with emotion. … Nothing wrong with showing a little emotion here and there.”
After his homer, television cameras showed Jones jawing at New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli from the dugout. Afterward, Jones declined to elaborate on what he shouted.
“Two competitors. That's pretty much it,” Jones said.
After the game, with Jones being interviewed on camera, Nelson Cruz ran onto the field with a pie and smashed it into Jones' face. Jones, the normal culprit with the pies, raised his arms and took the pie in the face without flinching.
Staked to a three-run lead, closer Zach Britton allowed an RBI groundout in the ninth but got Stephen Drew to ground out for his 25th save. Darren O'Day (4-1) was credited with the win after throwing a scoreless eighth in relief of Tillman.
The Orioles were flummoxed by Yankees starter Michael Pineda through four perfect innings before Cruz's leadoff double began the fifth. Cruz moved to third on a single by Steve Pearce and then he ended Pineda's shutout by scoring on Ryan Flaherty's sacrifice fly.
It was the only blemish on an otherwise splendid outing by Pineda, who has been on the DL most of the season with a muscle injury in his right shoulder. Wednesday was the 6-foot-7 right-hander's fifth start of the season and first since he was ejected on April 23 — and subsequently suspended 10 games — for having pine tar smeared on the right side of his neck.
Showalter, only half-jokingly, said before the game that he hoped Pineda had pine tar somewhere Wednesday, because he didn't want the hard-throwing 25-year-old to lose his grip of the baseball.
Pineda's aim and his outcome were close to perfect, but he was pulled after five innings, throwing 67 pitches, 48 for strikes. He struck out four hitters and walked none before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Pineda left with a 2-1 lead, and Tillman kept the Orioles close until the offense could break out. He retired the first six batters he faced, but Drew led off the third with a fly ball to left field that Delmon Young chased down but failed to catch. It was ruled a double.
Two batters later, Cervelli, the Yankees' No. 9 hitter, homered to left field for his second of the season. It was Cervelli's fourth hit in eight at-bats against Tillman in his career.
After Cervelli's homer, Tillman allowed just three singles the rest of the way. He gave up just two runs and five hits and while walking none and striking out three in seven strong innings. It was his 11th quality start in his last 13 outings and the 10th time in his last 15 games that Tillman has given up two runs or fewer. Yet he was far from pleased with his effort after the game.
“I knew coming in from the get-go it was going to be a grind,” said Tillman, who has issued just two total walks in his past four games. “It was a battle throughout, but fortunately made some pitches.”
The last batter Tillman faced was also the last one Girardi would see from the dugout. With two outs in the seventh, Drew tapped a ball in front of the plate. Orioles catcher Nick Hundley grabbed it and then threw beyond first base, but Drew was ruled out for running outside of the baseline.
Girardi stormed out and heatedly argued the call, screaming, “Be consistent,” at home plate umpire Gerry Davis. Girardi retreated toward the dugout, but went back at Davis, who quickly ejected the Yankees manager. It was Girardi's 26th career ejection; his 23rd as a manager.
He didn't wait around to see his club give back the game in the eighth — or for the Orioles to continue their seasonlong point that they aren't going away easily.
“I like the way this thing's turning right now,” Tillman said.
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