NEW YORK – Remember the New York Yankees?
That shell of a franchise that was left for dead after being swept last weekend at Camden Yards, the mega-salaried club that simply couldn't overcome injuries and old age?
Well, after beating the Orioles, 5-4, on a scorching Saturday afternoon before an announced 42,678 in the Bronx, the Yankees have risen like a phoenix and flown a half-game ahead of the Orioles and back into second place in the American League East.
“This division, there is no one ever comfortable,” Orioles reserve catcher Taylor Teagarden said. “Any one team can go on a three- or four-game skid and another team can go on a five- or six-game winning streak.”
The Yankees (48-39) have won six straight since the brooms were out last weekend at Camden Yards, and have now leapfrogged the Orioles for the first time since June 12. The Orioles (48-40) had been in second place since June 13, but now are back in third after losing four of five games to start this six-game road trip.
The full reversal will be completed if the Yankees, with Hiroki Kuroda on the mound today, can finish the sweep at Yankee Stadium — a little payback from last week.
“I think the difference between the games at home and here is we got on them early and we kept getting after them,” said Chris Davis, who gave the Orioles a 2-0, first-inning lead with his major league-best 33rd homer. “One- and two-run leads in this game don't last very long. Especially with their offense and in this ballpark.”
With an RBI double by Alexi Casilla in the second inning, the Orioles took a 3-0 lead and handed it to right-hander Chris Tillman, who hadn't lost since May 19.
Tillman couldn't keep it going.
Unlike in previous outings in which he made adjustments and survived shaky command early, Tillman never got into a rhythm. He didn't allow an extra-base hit but was touched up for 10 singles — tying a season-high for hits allowed — and was charged with five runs in just 51/3 innings.
“It was a tough one for me,” said Tillman (10-3), who was attempting to become the first Oriole to win eight straight decisions since Erik Bedard won nine consecutive in 2007. “These guys grind away the whole game. They put [together] consistent, good at-bats throughout the game. It wears on you, but at the same time, you know you've got to make pitches.”
Tillman permitted RBI singles to four Yankees, including Robinson Cano's game-tying base hit in the two-run fifth and Eduardo Nunez's go-ahead single in the sixth. Nunez, who was activated Saturday after two months on the disabled list with an oblique injury, added a sacrifice fly for two RBIs on the day.
“[Tillman] had a lot of little things [happen] that add up, but he's capable of better,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We've seen him real good this year. He didn't implode.”
Davis, who on Saturday was elected to his first All-Star Game and received 8.27 million votes, more than any other big league player, did his part to keep to keep Tillman on the winning side.
With two outs in the first, Davis crushed an 89-mph cutter from Andy Pettitte to deep center for a two-run homer. His 33 long balls and 85 RBIs tied his career highs set last year — a week before the season's first half ends.
Davis has the most pre-break homers since the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds hit 39 and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Luis Gonzalez smacked 35 in 2001. Davis has the most homers pre-break for an American League player since the Seattle Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr. hit 35 in 1998.
Strangely, it was the fifth consecutive time in which Davis had homered with Tillman pitching and the eighth time in Tillman's 18 starts that the first baseman has gone deep.
"I haven't noticed,” Tillman deadpanned. “No, I do [know]. He's special. He puts some good swings on balls that probably shouldn't be hit and he's hitting them out of the ballpark. He's strong enough to do that. He's fun to watch. I'm glad he's on our side.”
The Orioles, who had 11 hits Saturday, scored their fourth run in the third on an RBI single by Teagarden. That's all that Pettitte would allow through 62/3 innings. The 41-year-old lefty and ultimate Orioles killer picked up his 28th career win against the franchise, the second most in modern club history behind Hall of Famer and former Yankee Whitey Ford's 30.
Pettitte (6-6) is undefeated over his past 11 starts against the Orioles — 8-0 dating to Sept. 19, 2007 — and has lost just twice to the Orioles since Sept. 10, 2002.
He was far from dominant Saturday, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits and no walks. He gave up a homer and three doubles, including Manny Machado's 39th of the season on the third baseman's 21st birthday.
“Andy Pettitte, he bent a little bit,” Showalter said. “We had a chance to open him up a little bit. He doesn't do that too much. He knows if he hangs around there and keeps it close [he can win], especially here with some of the things he has working for him.”
Three Yankees relievers — including closer Mariano Rivera, who picked up his 29th save with a scoreless ninth — preserved the win and allowed Pettitte to improve to 28-6 lifetime against the Orioles, who have lost 14 of 26 one-run games this season.
In 2012, the Orioles had a remarkable record of 29-9 in one-run games.
“Last year, we did a good job of keeping the lead and handing it off to our bullpen. It was definitely a special year, a special run,” Davis said. “You can't expect to produce that year-in and year-out. I think it takes a toll on everybody. Anytime we have a close game, we feel comfortable with our bullpen and with our lineup. We just couldn't pull it out [Saturday].”
Now the Orioles are looking up at the Yankees again, and both teams trail the Boston Red Sox as the final week of the first half looms.
“The rest of these [divisional] games are going to be crucial. You see how tight the race is. Almost every team in the East [besides Toronto] has a winning record,” Teagarden said. “There are going to be tough games like this for the rest of the year, one-run ballgames that come down to the ninth inning. And we're going to have to gut some out.”
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