Minutes after the Orioles beat the New York Yankees, 5-3, on Wednesday night, manager Buck Showalter made a proclamation about enigmatic starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who delivered one of his best performances of the season.
“He's on a little mission, I can tell,” Showalter said of Jimenez. “He wasn't too happy [about recent performances]. He wanted to finish up strong.”
Jimenez, who has won consecutive decisions for the first time since the All-Star break, agreed with his manager's assessment -- that he was extra determined to pitch well Wednesday before an announced 30,038 in the Bronx. The season is fading away. And Jimenez, who had a 2.81 ERA in the first half of the season but a 6.88 in the second half heading into Wednesday, wants to make these last few chances count.
“Yeah, you want to go with everything you have for the last month of the season,” said Jimenez, who leads the team with 11 wins. “I know things haven't been the way we want them to [be] after the second half [started]. But you have to finish strong. You have to go with everything you have until the last day.”
That's the current theme of these Orioles. They're not buried yet, though the shovels are certainly at the ready.
Wednesday was the second straight victory for the Orioles (67-72) after they dropped 15 of their previous 18 games. With 23 games remaining in 2015, they're 12 games out of first place in the American League East and entered Wednesday 7½ games behind the Texas Rangers for the second wild card.
“You can't be thinking that we're out of it,” Jimenez said. “You have to take every game like it's your last and try to go with everything you have and let's see what happens.”
Beating the Yankees (77-61) in two of three games in New York marked the first series victory for the Orioles since sweeping the Oakland Athletics from Aug. 14-17.
They accomplished it Wednesday by relying on Jimenez, an eighth-inning homer by Steve Pearce and another great game by Chris Davis, who reached base five times and drove in two runs.
The story of the evening, though, was Jimenez, who allowed just four hits and three runs -- all driven in by New York right fielder Carlos Beltran -- in seven innings for his 99th career win. He struck out eight, his most since June 23, and became the first Orioles starter to complete seven innings since Kevin Gausman on Aug. 23.
“I feel like my mechanics are better. It's like how I was in the first half,” Jimenez said. “I get on the mound and try to get people out. I'm not thinking about mechanics right now.”
Jimenez ended the Orioles' streak of 10 straight games without a starter lasting more than 5 2/3 innings.
“As starting pitchers, we take a lot of pride in getting deep into games,” he said. “And when it's not happening, you definitely don't feel good. It's disappointing.”
While Jimenez kept the game close, Pearce gave the Orioles the lead, homering to left against right-hander Adam Warren (6-6), who had allowed just one other hit in 2 2/3 innings of strong relief.
It was Pearce's 10th homer of the year; he had been hitless in his previous nine at-bats.
“It definitely feels great to contribute, especially in a big game,” Pearce said. “We need this win and everybody did good. We're all backed into a corner.”
Darren O'Day pitched a perfect eighth and Zach Britton collected his 32nd save by not allowing a hit or run in the ninth.
The night started well for the Orioles.
They immediately scored against New York lefty CC Sabathia, who had been on the disabled list with right knee inflammation.
Nolan Reimold led off the game with a walk and scored on a two-out single by Davis, who has 12 RBIs in eight September games.
The Yankees tied it up in the bottom of the first when Beltran hit a two-out homer to left, his 15th home run of the season.
Beltran drove in two more in the third on a single to center to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. The Orioles countered with their own two-out rally, though it was aided by Yankees miscues.
Sabathia allowed a single, a walk and plunked Davis to load the bases in the fifth. Warren then entered to face Jonathan Schoop and induced a grounder to third baseman Chase Headley.
Headley, though, threw softly to second baseman Stephen Drew and the ball skipped between Drew's legs allowing Dariel Alvarez and Reimold to score to tie the game at 3. After Drew's error, Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph grounded out to end the threat.
There were plenty of bright spots for Jimenez. By striking out Alex Rodriguez in the second inning Wednesday, Jimenez moved into ninth place all time for strikeouts by a Dominican-born pitcher with 1,428. He passed a mentor, Ramon Martinez, who is the Orioles' special assignment pitching instructor.
The question is whether the Orioles can build on this victory when they begin play Friday night at Camden Yards against the Kansas City Royals.
Or if it is too little, too late.
“We are going to try to win out. We take every day as a start,” Showalter said. “I tell them all the time in advanced meetings, ‘Today is an opportunity to do the things we are capable of doing.' And that's what we are going to try to do Friday against another good club.”
As Pearce put it: “We haven't been playing good baseball, but there's still a lot of baseball left and we can turn it around. And we can start with this series.”