Through his first three innings Tuesday night, it looked like Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez might be headed for an early exit.
He was already on the cusp of throwing 60 pitches against the New York Yankees, and despite not allowing a run, he was getting locked into some deep counts.
But then Gonzalez would find his groove, leaning on a split-fingered fastball that baffled a predominantly left-handed hitting New York lineup, and led the Orioles to a 4-3 victory over the Yankees behind a career-high 10 strikeouts.
For the second straight night, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had the choice of sticking with his starter for the seventh inning with his pitch count in the nineties. A day after pulling left-hander Wei-Yin Chen after six innings — and watching reliever Tommy Hunter allow a game-altering grand slam — Showalter entrusted the seventh inning to Gonzalez Tuesday.
Gonzalez rewarded his manager, ending his night by striking out the side in the seventh — all three swinging — and walking into the dugout after his 108th pitch to a rousing ovation from the announced crowd of 19,283.
“It was tougher not putting him out there for the eighth,” Showalter said. “He's probably done as much to be durable since the season ended last year as ... you could ask of a player. ... He's got a goal to pitch 200 innings this year. He's working on an extra day, too.”
Coming off a debut in which he issued five walks, Gonzalez found his command Tuesday. All of his pitches were working, mixing his four-seam and two-seam fastballs with the occasional curveball and slider. But it was the effectiveness of the splitter — which he was able to pinpoint on the outside part of the plate to lefties — that kept the Yankees off balance.
“I think everything was working, especially the split, because I was throwing in to hitters and moving them off the plate,” Gonzalez said. “I think that's a key for us as starting pitchers, just command the pitches inside and move their feet. That way I was opening the outside corner to throw the split-finger. … Really that was the key, just throwing strikes with it and they were swinging so I was going to keep throwing it.”
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones hit a solo home run in the first inning off Yankees starter CC Sabathia, Jones' fourth home run in the past five games. Jones is 11-for-17 with six extra-base hits (four homers, two doubles) and nine RBIs in the Orioles' five games at home this season. He also drove in a run in the third on a sacrifice fly.
Catcher Caleb Joseph had two hits and drove in a run in the fourth inning — his first RBI of the season. Joseph also hit his first career triple in the seventh on a ball in the right-center field gap that got past Jacoby Ellsbury's dive. Joseph then scored what ended up being the winning run on Everth Cabrera's sacrifice fly to center.
The Orioles plated four runs off Sabathia in seven innings, marking the fifth straight time Sabathia has allowed four or more runs against the Orioles. Sabathia is winless in his past nine starts at Camden Yards.
The Orioles' beleaguered bullpen — which has allowed runs in all eight games this season — almost let another quality start slip away.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman allowed two runs in the eighth inning, though one was unearned, when Severna Park native Mark Teixeira's hooking line drive to left hit off Alejandro De Aza's glove to score a run with two outs in the inning.
Closer Zach Britton stranded the tying run on second in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth for his second save of the season and the first save of more than three outs of his career.
“The save is the save, but I think more so it's for Miguel, it's getting the win,” Britton said. “Coming off his last start he really wanted to give some innings. And he did a really good job, especially that last inning. He was dominant. It was good to get him the win."
In his first two starts of the season, Gonzalez has allowed just two runs over 122/3 innings, pitching to a 1.42 ERA with 15 strikeouts and six walks.
Despite having a high pitch count early — Gonzalez threw 58 pitches through three innings — he allowed just four hits. From the second to fifth innings, he retired 10 straight and retired 16 of the last 18 he faced.
“He was incredible,” Joseph said. “The thing about Miggy is he's got a lot of weapons, and when he gets ahead, he's dangerous.”
In striking out the side in seventh, Gonzalez retired Garrett Jones on a fastball, Chris Young on a curveball and Stephen Drew on a splitter. As he walked off the mound to a loud ovation, he had no idea that he had just set a new career high in strikeouts.
“It was awesome,” Gonzalez said of the ovation. “I wasn't even thinking about how many strikeouts I had. Really, just focusing on what I was doing.”