NEW YORK -- Pedro Strop's success at the Orioles' set-up man is a major reason why the O's were in position to close the gap in the American League East to a single game Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Manager Buck Showalter admits that Strop's outings sometime offer "a ride," because he has so much movement on his pitches. But the results are exemplary. He came into Saturday's game with a 1.86 ERA, fifth best among AL relievers.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old Strop came so close to another late-inning hold, but instead he was front-and-center in a costly collapse in the Bronx.
Strop couldn't preserve a one-run lead in the seventh inning, unable to get the third out as the Yankees rallied for a 4-3 comeback win over the Orioles in front of an announced 46,122 at Yankee Stadium.
"It would have been a nice game to win," said catcher Matt Wieters, whose solo homer in the fourth inning extended the Orioles' lead to 3-0. "There's no doubt about that, but it doesn't matter moving forward what happened today. We're going to go out here and have a chance to win the series tomorrow, and that's our mindset."
After Strop walked in the tying run, the Yankees went ahead on a rare error by J.J. Hardy, who entered the game leading all major league shortstops with a .992 fielding percentage.
The loss sent the Orioles (73-59) three games back of the division-leading Yankees (76-56).
The O's still lead the Tampa Bay Rays by 1 ½ games for the second wild-card spot and second place in the AL East. But this defeat snapped their streak of 13 straight wins in one-run games. The O's are 24-7 in games decided by a run.
The Orioles entered Saturday having won five of six in the Bronx, but they couldn't capitalize on Yankees starter David Phelps' early struggles. Phelps allowed 10 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings, including six walks and a hit batter.
The Orioles had just four hits on the day, and just one after Wieters' 18th homer of the year, which was their only extra-base hit.
Starter Wei-Yin Chen retired the first 11 Yankees he faced until Robinson Cano's opposite-field homer to left in the fourth cut the Orioles' lead to 3-1. Chen fell into trouble in the seventh and was chased from the game with two on and two outs after Eduardo Nunez's looping single drove in former Oriole Steve Pearce to make the score 3-2.
"This is the AL East, the toughest division in the league," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "Our bullpen has done a really great job this whole year. The only thing I can say is: I didn't pitch good in the seventh inning. I couldn't get the ball down."
Chen gave way to Strop, who lacked crispness from his first pitch. He walked Ichiro Suzuki on five pitches to load the bases. Then, a full-count two-seamer to Derek Jeter cut inside to walk in a run and tie the game at 3.
"Everything just happened quick," Strop said "I couldn't handle my sinker, it was running too much. Maybe it was because mechanically I was off. Something happened that I'm going to find out and fix it as soon as possible."
Strop battled back from a 3-1 count on Nick Swisher to induce a ground ball to short that should have ended the inning, but Hardy couldn't handle the in-between hop, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
"I think he's the best shortstop in the league," Showalter said of Hardy. "I do. That's not something I think twice about. That time of the day, the infield's so chewed up. It's partly our fault because we had a bunch of baserunners out there chewing it up."
Strop, who fell behind all three batters he faced but worked each count full, is fifth in the AL with 23 holds this season. He has now blown five saves, but this was the first that ended in an Orioles loss.
"Strop has been good for us all year," Wieters said. "That's one outing. I'm not too concerned with it. It's something where they put together some good at-bats and they weren't going to chase [pitches] often. They were going to make him come in there and throw strikes. There were some close pitches that just missed."
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "He competed his butt off. It's not something we're going to dwell on. We're going to move on and try to win the series [Sunday]."
Despite taking an early lead, the Orioles couldn't put together a big inning against the struggling Phelps, who allowed five of his first seven batters to reach base. The Orioles put two runners on base to open the game — Nick Markakis drew a walk and Hardy singled — but Nate McLouth hit into a double play, which scored the game's first run but killed a potential rally.
The Orioles had Phelps on the ropes again in the second inning after Chris Davis was hit by a pitch and Mark Reynolds walked. Manny Machado's one-out single made it 2-0, but Markakis grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
"We had some opportunities, but we couldn't get that big two-out hit like we have in the past couple of weeks to extend our lead there," McLouth said. "We've had some good at-bats the last couple of weeks, but we weren't able to do it today."