From the moment the ball made contact with Nate McLouth's bat and sailed toward the right-field foul pole of Camden Yards, McLouth's mind raced back to last October.
The Orioles left fielder couldn't help but think back to the Orioles' final game of last season, in Game 5 of American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, when McLouth launched a CC Sabathia pitch high and deep toward the pole at Yankee Stadium. Numerous replays later, the debate rages whether the ball — which was ruled foul — nicked the foul pole.
Once he swung at Sabathia's 1-0 delivery in the seventh inning Friday night, McLouth tilted his body, trying to will the high fly ball fair. This time, McLouth's ball left no doubt, landing in the flag-court in right field for the game-winning solo homer, sending the Orioles to a 4-3 comeback victory over the Yankees in front of an announced 40,041 at Camden Yards.
"I wasn't even out of the batter's box before I thought that," McLouth said of thinking back to Game 5. "Off the bat, I knew it had the distance, it just stayed true. It stayed straight, and I was happy about that. … I literally did think about that the second I hit it."
It was the first time this season that McLouth batted eighth in the lineup. Sixty-one of his previous 63 starts were from the leadoff spot.
An inning before his solo homer in the seventh inning, McLouth broke up Sabathia's no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the sixth. The Orioles managed just five hits against Sabathia — including two dribblers that didn't leave the infield, but still rallied back from a 3-0 third-inning deficit to take the first game of this pivotal three-game series by beating the Yankees' ace.
With the win, the Orioles (45-36) took a two-game lead over the Yankees for second place in the American League East and kept pace 3 1/2 games back of the division-leading Red Sox.
"It's good to get that first win of the series," McLouth said. "For them just to keep that at a three-run lead was big, that's kind of within striking distance. You're not going to do that too often against CC, but we were able to break through with some infield hits."
Heralded Orioles pitching prospect Kevin Gausman, making his first major league appearance in relief, earned his first big league win with 4 scoreless innings as the Orioles' bullpen tossed 62/3 scoreless innings.
Of McLouth's five homers this season, three have given the Orioles the lead. His last home run also sealed a win over the Yankees at Camden Yards a month ago. On May 21, he hit a walk-off homer in the 10th inning off Vidal Nuno to give the Orioles a 3-2 win.
The 22-year-old Gausman, who was winless in five previous big league starts, yielded just three singles and struck out four, keeping the Orioles within striking distance after spot starter T.J. McFarland, making his first major league start, was chased from the game after 2 innings.
"Sometimes, when you put young pitchers in a come-to-the-rescue mode … there's a little different culture that they come into in a game," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Gausman. "I think he's going to be a guy where it doesn't matter, but whether it's [McFarland] or it's him, when you're trying to manage and develop young pitchers, experience tells you that you try to create a situation where they've got nothing to lose, and I think he really came in there letting it rip.
Gausman, recalled as an extra bullpen arm on Monday, made his first appearance in nine days and dominated the Yankees lineup mixing a fastball that reached 99 mph with his splitter and slider. Gausman hadn't made a relief appearance since high school, when he used to come in from playing right field.
"I was thinking last night about what the best relievers have and they have that bulldog mentality," Gausman said. "That's something I definitely tried to kind of do today. … I think [Buck] definitely has something and knows something to put me out there and put me into the situation and the role. I can just kind of go out there. It's not like you are thinking all day when you are starting. It's like, 'All right I gotta get ready, go out there and throw strikes and execute.'"
Sabathia, who was going for his 200th career win in his 400th career start, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but by the end of the frame the Orioles had rallied for three runs to tie the game. Manny Machado's major-leading 37th double of the season was lined into the right-center field gap, scoring two runs, but Machado's biggest contribution to tying the game might have come on the basepaths.
On J.J. Hardy's fly out to center field, Machado — seeing center fielder Brett Gardner catching the ball on his heels — tagged from second and sprinted to third. That became important when Machado was able to score on Adam Jones' two-out infield single to tie the game at 3-3.
"It's a do or die play," Machado said. "Something that Buck allows us to do is play our game. If you have a shot for it, go for it. I think in that situation, I want to get to third there, especially if I see him camping under the ball. I definitely want to take that extra base."
Said Jones: "I think the biggest part about that whole, that allowed us to tie the game, was Machado going to third base. Gardner has a good arm but he caught it flat footed. I think that's the key to the game."
Sabathia entered the inning having retired 12 of his first 13 batters. Alexi Casilla was the sole Orioles base runner, reaching on a fielding error on third baseman Alberto Gonzalez in the third inning.
But McLouth's leadoff single to center was followed by a nubber Casilla hit to the right of the mound that Sabathia charged, scooped and turned to find no one at first base.
That set the stage for Machado, who went the other way with a 2-1 offering from Sabathia to score McLouth and Casilla. At the official halfway point of the season, Machado is just 30 doubles shy of Earl Webb's 82-year-old record for doubles in a season (67). Machado's 37 doubles are second most through the end of June since 1921, trailing only Edgar Martinez's 39 in 1996.
Rule 5 pick McFarland, given the starting nod following the previous night's game, lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his first major-league start after working out of the bullpen the entire season. He struggled from the beginning against the Yankees (42-37). McFarland allowed the leadoff hitter on base in each of his three innings — with two of them scoring.
He trailed 1-0 just three batters into the game on Robinson Cano's RBI single, but dodged further damage in the opening frame. After stranding two base runners in the second, McFarland allowed three straight singles to open the third inning — the last being Vernon Wells' RBI single.
Three batters later, McFarland would be chased from the game after Chris Stewart's two-out, run-scoring bloop single to center with the Orioles down 3-0.
Gausman, the other leading candidate for Friday's spot start, kept the Orioles in the game in his first game action in nine days with 41/3 scoreless relief innings.
Gausman (1-3) kept the Orioles in the game after the early deficit. He struck out three of the first four Yankees he faced, retired 11 of the last 13 batters. After the game, he received a shaving cream pie from Jones and was doused by a cooler full of water by teammate Chris Dickerson.
Tommy Hunter tossed two scoreless innings to end the game for his second career save, striking out three and allowing just one hit.