The Orioles had allowed 32 home runs in 10 games at Yankee Stadium this season, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, he gave the Yankees the opportunity to win the series finale with one swing.
With the Orioles clinging to a two-run lead and Jacoby Ellsbury on third base, Showalter decided to walk slugger Aaron Judge, who entered the day with a 1.688 OPS against the Orioles this season, to bring the potential winning run to the plate in the form of slugging catcher Gary Sánchez.
Closer Zach Britton wasn’t a fan of the move — he wanted to face Judge — but ended the game quickly by striking out Sánchez on five pitches, getting him to swing through three sinkers.
Nothing had been easy for the Orioles (73-77) this weekend, and neither was Sunday’s win that avoided a four-game sweep and gave the Orioles faint hope they have more to play for than pride over their final 12 games of the regular season.
Judge’s 11 homers against the Orioles are the most by a Yankee against any opponent since Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961, and Judge missed his 12th homer but just a few feet with a double off the left-field wall in the sixth inning, so Showalter wasn’t about to allow him another opportunity.
After the game, Showalter was asked whether he walked Judge because the rookie has performed so well against the Orioles this season.
“If that’s the case, we’d walk just about all of them,” Showalter said. “Sánchez hurt us. You’re just picking your poison. Two great, really good young hitters. … There wasn’t anybody standing at first.”
Whether the look that Britton gave once he realized that Showalter had given the new automatic walk cue to send Judge to first was a result of confusion or disdain wasn’t clear, but Britton made it clear he didn’t agree with the move to dodge Judge, whom he had never faced before.
“It’s not something I would have [chosen], but now with the rule it kind of surprises you for a second,” Britton said. “But I just figured I had to get Sánchez. Obviously, I wanted to attack Judge. I like my chances there. But it’s not my call. … You’d have to ask [Showalter]. Like I said, it wasn’t my call. My job is just to attack the next guy.”
Ultimately, Showalter played the odds — Sanchez was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Britton going in — and the gamble paid off.
“We got Zach Britton on the mound. I’m thinking we are going to win the ballgame,” said shortstop Tim Beckham’s whose three-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead. “That’s how I’m thinking every time he’s in the ballgame. I’m sure that’s how everyone in this clubhouse feels when he gets the ball on the mound. So, he had all the confidence in the world in Zach and the fact that we walked Judge is no big deal, and we get the next guy. If we didn’t walk Judge, he would have gotten Judge, too. My thoughts are we are winning the game, no doubt.”
Unfortunately for the Orioles, there weren’t enough wins — or leads — on their 2-8 road trip to keep them close in the race for the second of two American League wild-card spots.
Showalter attempted to put a positive spin on the trip-ending win, highlighting Ubaldo Jiménez’s five-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout effort.
“It’s history,” Showalter said. “We’ve got a winning streak going. If we pitch like we pitched today, we’ve got a chance to run some wins off, and I wouldn’t sell us short. That’s the way we’re looking at it. If we can stay in the games with starting pitching, we’ve got a chance to make a run at it.”
Despite their win Sunday, the Orioles were outscored 102-46 in 10 games at Yankee Stadium this season, and 34-16 in this series. The 102 runs the Orioles allowed to the Yankees marked the first time an opposing team allowed that many in one season in either Yankee Stadium since the St. Louis Browns gave up 104 in 1949.
The Orioles knew their three-city, 10-game road trip to Cleveland, Toronto and New York could make or break their season, and essentially it did.
“Completely different ends of the spectrum,” Britton said. “If you look at it, we were right there going into Cleveland and right now we’re on the outside looking in. We played some good teams, obviously, on this road trip.”
When they left for Cleveland two Thursdays ago, the Orioles were two games over .500, just two games out of the second AL wild-card spot with 22 games remaining in the regular season, pretty much even with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels.
But now returning to Baltimore after a 2-8 trip — dropping all three series — the Orioles find their postseason aspirations all but mathematically over. Despite Sunday’s win, they are 5½ games out of the second wild-card spot with 12 games left to play, starting Monday with the opener of a three-game series against the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.
“I think really it was disappointing the way Cleveland [beat us] … obviously, they’re playing so well,” Britton said. “But we needed to win some games. We just couldn’t do it. Nothing really clicked for us on this road trip. Offense, pitching, it was a grind this whole time. Like I said, we’ve got our work cut out for us when we get home. Boston’s a first-place team, so we’re going to have to play good baseball to beat those guys.”
The Orioles knew that the outcome of this road trip would likely dictate their season, especially since they had to open the trip in Cleveland as the Indians were in the midst of a 22-game winning streak and ended it at Yankee Stadium, where they had been outplayed mightily in two previous series. The six runs the Orioles scored Sunday were their most during the trip. They scored three or fewer runs in eight of the eight of the first nine games.
“Coming off a hot August like we had, it was definitely a grind,” Beckham said of the trip. “As hitters we didn’t put up numbers like we normally do, but that’s the game of baseball. You want to come back and grind it out and come back be ready to work the next day. And know that it just takes one hit, one ball on the barrel to get you locked in. Just keep competing, man that’s all you can do.”