As dominating as Kevin Gausman was in his first inning of relief Tuesday night, and as well as he's pitched against the Yankees overall, the Orioles' rookie right-hander faced uncharted territory in the eighth inning against the heart of New York's batting order.
In his first career eighth-inning hold opportunity, Gausman allowed three runs — including Alfonso Soriano's go-ahead two-run homer— as the Yankees rallied for four runs and a 7-5 win over the Orioles.
With leads against fellow playoff contenders more precious than ever, the Orioles' inability to close out the Yankees was damaging in more ways than one.
With this loss before an announced 25,897 at Camden Yards, the Orioles (77-67) blew an opportunity to pull within a half-game of the second American League wild-card spot after the Tampa Bay Rays lost 2-0 to the division-leading Boston Red Sox.
The defeat also allowed the Yankees (77-68) to creep within a half-game of the Orioles for third place in the AL East standings and in the chase for the second wild-card spot with 18 games remaining in the regular season.
“The flood gates kind of opened right there,” Gausman said of the Yankees' eighth-inning rally, which allowed them to snap a six-game losing streak at Camden Yards. “You can definitely feel it kind of take some wind out of us, but hopefully tomorrow we can bounce back.”
Both of Gausman's major league wins came against the Yankees, and he had thrown nine scoreless innings of relief against New York entering the game. But after Gausman (2-5) retired the order in the seventh, striking out Lyle Overbay and Brett Gardner to end the inning, the Yankees jumped on him in the eighth.
With the Orioles clinging to a 4-3 lead, Alex Rodriguez opened the inning with a double, and Robinson Cano singled up the middle to tie the game.
Soriano then tagged a 97-mph fastball from on a 0-1 count into the stands in right-center for his second homer of the night, chasing Gausman from the game.
“You could definitely tell he was on tonight,” Gausman said.
Instead of turning to his usual eighth-inning arms like Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter, Showalter stuck with Gausman. Afterward, Showalter said he wasn't working with a full deck of relievers.
“We had a couple guys unavailable tonight, and Gaus is pitching on normal rest like a starter,” Showalter said. “He's pitching well. He had some good pitches. Just some balls that they were able to get their arms extended on. He continues to present himself well. Just wasn't his night.”
Two batters after Soriano's blast, former Oriole Mark Reynolds laced an RBI double down the left-field line off Francisco Rodriguez to give the Yankees a 7-4 lead.
O'Day has pitched just once since Aug. 31 (a two-inning stint). Hunter, who pitched a scoreless inning Monday, hasn't pitched on back-to-back days since Sept. 1-2.
In the fifth inning, the Orioles finally broke through with a four-run inning against Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova, who had pitched complete-game wins in both of his previous two starts against them.
Chris Davis launched his 49th homer of the season, a two-run blast to center field, to cap the inning. Davis' homer tied him with Frank Robinson (1966) for second on the Orioles' single-season home run list, one shy of Brady Anderson's club record set in 1996.
Nova tossed his first career shutout in his previous start against the Orioles on Aug. 31 and entered with a 1.52 ERA in three appearances against them this season. But the Orioles quickly erased a 1-0 deficit in the fifth inning.
After J.J. Hardy and Brian Roberts opened the frame with back-to-back singles, No. 9 hitter Henry Urrutia hit a slow grounder to shortstop Eduardo Nunez. Nunez's throw to first was wild, allowing Hardy to score and putting runners at second and third.
Nick Markakis then hit a fly ball to Soriano in left. Soriano's throw was on line for a close play at the plate with Roberts tagging, but third baseman Alex Rodriguez cut the ball off, leaving Yankees catcher Chris Stewart at the plate with his arms raised in disbelief.
Two batters later, Davis crushed a first-pitch 81-mph hanging curveball over the outer half of the plate over the center-field fence to match Robinson's Triple-Crown season home run total. It was Davis' 27th home run at Camden Yards this season, matching Robinson's club record for homers at home, also set in 1966.
The Orioles chased Nova from the game after six innings as he tied a season-high with four earned runs on six hits.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez — who overcame a 24-pitch first inning — allowed three runs over six innings, shaking off a rough outing in his previous start against the Yankees. (He allowed seven runs in four innings at Yankees Stadium on Aug. 30.)
But he surrendered homers to Soriano and Reynolds in the sixth, which allowed the Yankees to close to within a run.
“Of course it hurts,” Gonzalez said. “We put up four runs in the fifth inning and I just got to come in the sixth inning and try to minimize the damage and it just didn't work out.”
The Orioles cut the Yankees' lead to 7-5 in the eighth on Matt Wieters' sacrifice fly — Davis drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on two wild pitches by Yankees reliever Shawn Kelley — but Yankees closer Mariano Rivera retired all four batters he faced to record his 42nd save of the season.
After the game, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said he and his teammates weren't looking over at the out-of-town scoreboard in right field to see the other contenders' scores. Instead, they need to concentrate on themselves.
“We've got a couple of weeks left and we're going to keep doing it like we've been doing it all year, just keep playing baseball,” Machado said. “Don't think about we're struggling here, we're struggling there. Just go out there, play baseball. At the end of the day, it's about winning games from now on. It's not about anybody's stats. We're just going to keep playing baseball and not worry about anybody else.”