After the Orioles dropped their series opener at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night by the slimmest of margins – falling five games behind the division-leading New York Yankees in the process – manager Buck Showalter said the difference in the game came down to a matter of inches.
The effect, however, was greater. The Orioles fell to the Yankees 3-2 in front of an announced 37,993 in the Bronx, losing the first game of their pivotal three-game series against the American League East leaders. Now, even if the Orioles rebound to win the final two games in New York, they’ll leave no closer than three games back.
“It’s the first game,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “We can still come out and win tomorrow and go from there. It’s a good team and they played well tonight. One run is going to be how a lot of these games are going to be decided.”
They couldn’t build on the momentum of back-to-back wins this weekend in Detroit that netted a much-needed road series victory. Instead, the Orioles dropped back to a familiar .500 record of 46-46 with their fourth defeat in five games at Yankee Stadium this season.
After tying the game at 2 with two runs in the top of the sixth with a pair of two-out RBI singles, the Orioles couldn’t respond with a shutdown inning in the bottom half. No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan hit a two-out run-scoring double off Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen.
“We were just one out away from getting out of the jam, and if I can do that, we won’t fall behind again, and we might have a chance to win. But that’s just baseball,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “I didn’t do well, and I have to accept that.”
The bounces didn’t go the Orioles' way Tuesday night. One inning before Ryan drove in the game-winning run with a hit down the left-field line, Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s line drive down the same line – a ball that would have scored a run - bounced just foul.
"You can’t steer ground balls, but Wei-Yin presented himself well,” Showalter said. “I thought Jon’s ball was going to be fair for sure, but hopefully some of those inches will go our way tomorrow."
The Orioles, who have lost 12 of their past 17 games, have scored three runs or fewer in 11 of their past 14 contests.
Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi held the Orioles to one hit over his first five innings, but was chased from the game in the sixth.
After Jimmy Paredes and Adam Jones hit back-to-back one-out singles, the Orioles hit a pair of two-out run-scoring singles to tie the game.
Wieters’ single to right scored Paredes and ended Eovaldi’s night. J.J. Hardy then singled off reliever Justin Wilson to knot the game at 2. But after right fielder Chris Young bobbled the ball, he threw to second to catch Wieters in a rundown between second and third to end the inning.
Wieters’ base-running miscue was the Orioles’ second of the night. After drawing a walk to open the game, Manny Machado was picked off first. He was initially called safe, but the play was challenged and overturned after review.
"I think Matt was assuming that, as short as it is in right field, he thought there would be a play at the plate,” Showalter said. "You’ve got your back there and you can’t see the bobble. Manny just got caught being a little over-aggressive."
Chen (4-6) allowed a run in each of his first two innings, but still posted his sixth straight quality start, holding New York to three runs over 6 1/3 innings.
After a 15-minute rain delay in the middle of the second inning, the Yankees were on the verge of a big inning against Chen. The first three batters of the second reached, and Chase Headley’s RBI double gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, putting runners at second and third with no outs.
Chen stranded six Yankees base runners, four in scoring position. He got a break in the fifth inning when Mark Teixeira’s ground-rule double one-hopped into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field, preventing Brett Gardner from scoring from first base. Chen then struck out Brian McCann to end the inning.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Wieters said of Chen. “I actually thought after the rain delay, he threw the ball a little bit better than the first inning. I think he was able to get through some pitches better and locate better after the first.”
The Yankees (51-41) were just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but Gregorius scored the winning run from first base in the sixth inning.
Chen retired the first two batters, but with Gregorius on first after a single, Ryan hit a ball down the third-base line into the left-field corner that scored the runner.
The Orioles stranded the tying run on third in the seventh when Yankees setup man Dellin Betances entered with two outs and struck out Machado.
Betances retired four of the five batters he faced and former Oriole Andrew Miller retired the side in order in the ninth on just nine pitches.
“You thought it was going to be a pretty good pitching matchup coming into the game and they were able to get the lead and then turn it over to their bullpen, which is pretty good,” Wieters said.