Gonzalez could tell early on against the New York Yankees that he didn’t have his best stuff Saturday afternoon. His fastball command was off, making it difficult to put away opposing hitters.
Still, Gonzalez held the Yankees to just three runs over six innings, giving the Orioles their 10th quality start over their past 12 games. But one inning cost Gonzalez and the Orioles in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees before an announced sellout of 44,231 at Camden Yards.
Gonzalez recorded his sixth straight quality start, the longest such streak by an Orioles starter this season, and despite the loss, manager Buck Showalter called it one of Gonzalez’s better efforts this year.
“I've got to tell you, in a lot of ways, that's one of the more impressive outings of the year from him, because he wasn't carrying much,” Showalter said. “I think that's the difference in major league pitchers, guys who can have success out there and keep you engaged in a game. … But that's what you like to see in pitchers. They're not always going to go out there, and everything's [not always] going to be perfect, but he spoiled us with a real high level of pitching for a while. Today, I think, to keep us engaged in that game, when he wasn't carrying his normal stuff, was impressive for me.”
With 14 games left in the regular season, the Orioles (88-60) have a 10 1/2-game lead in the AL East, but they could not shrink their magic number of five on Saturday. The Orioles now can clinch the division no sooner than Tuesday, against the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles, whose six-game winning streak ended, stranded the tying run at third base in the bottom of the ninth, with Yankees closer David Robertson retiring right fielder Nick Markakis on a groundout to second to end the game. The Orioles also stranded the tying run on second base in the seventh and eighth innings.
Despite the loss, Orioles starters are 6-1 with a 1.61 ERA over the past 12 games, a promising sign for the club as it aims for October, when strong postseason pitching is essential.
“Let's face it, pitchers get days off,” Showalter said. “They pitch every fourth, fifth, sixth day, depending on what you do. Bullpen guys, you can rest them. I think this time of year, some of the fatigue of the position players comes into play, too. I'm not trying to take anything away from the pitching for us, but baseball, in general. If you look at scores and you get into August and September, it's tough.”
The Orioles outhit the Yankees 9-4 but were held to two runs over 5 1/3 innings by New York’s Shane Greene (5-3). The right-hander, who threw seven shutout innings against the Orioles in their only previous meeting, had nine strikeouts and issued one walk Saturday while allowing seven hits.
“The [pitching] kept us in the game, and we outhit them today, and usually offense is there to pick us up, and we didn’t have it today,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “Their guy pitched a good game; he’s a nice-looking prospect for them, and those type of games, sometimes we find a way to win. It didn’t happen today, but we’ll suit up again tomorrow.”
After Friday's split-doubleheader sweep, the Orioles already had clinched their season series with the Yankees (76-71). The Orioles entered Saturday afternoon having won 11 of their past 13 games at home and as owners of the best home record in baseball since June 30 (26-7).
Gonzalez (9-8) held the Yankees in check for most of the afternoon, but New York plated three crucial runs in a 36-pitch second inning.
“Yeah, I mean, you’re not always going to be where you want to be,” Gonzalez said. “That was a tough inning right there, but we were able to minimize damage afterward.”
Catcher Brian McCann opened the scoring with his 19th homer of the season, a solo shot that landed on the flag court. Severna Park native Mark Teixeira then drew a one-out walk, which Chris Young followed with a double to left. No. 8 hitter Antoan Richardson hit a looping single to right to drive in Teixeira.
With runners at the corners and one out, Richardson broke for second. Joseph threw to second, but his throw was off and Young stole home to put the Yankees up 3-0.
“If I put the ball in the tagging area, he’s out, and we’re not talking about it,” Joseph said. “I just didn’t execute. I threw it up the line a little bit, made a tough play, and that’s basically it. If I put it on the money, he’s out. I didn’t do my job, and it cost us a run. I’ve got to be better.”
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz drove in his 102nd RBI of the season with a two-out single in the third inning, but the Orioles stranded two runners in scoring position — first baseman Steve Pearce later doubled down the right-field line against the shift — on shortstop J.J. Hardy’s inning-ending groundout to second.
Pearce’s 17th homer of the season, a solo shot to left field in the sixth inning, chased Greene from the game.
Gonzalez (9-8) didn’t allow a hit after Richardson’s RBI single in the third, retiring the next 11 Yankees batters and 14 of his final 16. Over his past 11 starts, Gonzalez has a 2.34 ERA. He was coming off back-to-back scoreless outings, including his first complete-game shutout Sept. 13.
Trailing by one, the Orioles stranded the tying run on second base in the seventh and eighth. Both times, they got the leadoff man on base but could not bring him home. Third baseman Jimmy Paredes opened the ninth with a single and moved to second on second baseman Ryan Flaherty’s sacrifice bunt, but pinch hitter Delmon Young grounded out before Markakis did the same. The Orioles finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Still, at this point, the Orioles’ first AL East title since 1997 seems all but inevitable. And inside the Yankees’ clubhouse Saturday, where their hopes of grasping a wild-card postseason berth are bleak, there was a sense of urgency.
“We are going to have to win a lot of games, so we need to win one tomorrow,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “That's all you can do. We have to go out win one tomorrow.”