The Orioles came to Yankee Stadium with a one-game division lead over the resurgent New York Yankees. But after two meetings in the Bronx this weekend, the Orioles have been knocked off their first-place perch in the American League East for the first time this season while being delivered a pair of numbing road losses.
The Orioles (14-8) dropped the second game of their three-game series with the Yankees, 12-4, losing their first series this season after winning six and splitting one before this weekend.
The Orioles allowed their two highest run totals this season on consecutive days, yielding 26 runs combined Friday and Saturday. It marks just the third time since 2012 that the Orioles have allowed at least 12 runs in consecutive games. Both previous occurrences came last season.
The weather in New York is getting warm, so balls are starting to fly out of Yankee Stadium. Over the first two games of the series, the Yankees hit nine homers.
"Pitchers had a rough time, hitters had a rough time," Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. "But the thing about it is our pitchers have kept us in the game for the most part this entire month. They've really been the main reason why we are in the spot we are. So we are not going to hit the panic button or try to reinvent the wheel with these guys. It's two rough games."
The Yankees (15-7) chased right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez from the game in the fourth inning, in part because of two homers by left fielder Brett Gardner as the Yankees ran out to a 7-0 lead.
Yankees catcher Austin Romine -- only in the starting lineup because budding star Gary Sanchez injured his biceps in the teams' prior meeting at Camden Yards early this month – drove in five runs on the day, including a two-run homer off left-hander Vidal Nuno in the sixth.
The Orioles have dropped three of their past four games. In blowing an eight-run, sixth-inning lead in the series-opening 14-11 extra-inning loss, the Orioles have been outscored, 25-6, by the Yankees since the sixth inning of Friday's game.
The Orioles scored two runs in the sixth Saturday on a throwing error by Yankees third baseman Chase Headley that scored Manny Machado and a bases-loaded wild pitch by Yankees starter Michael Pineda that scored Mark Trumbo.
They added two more in the ninth on Joseph's two-run homer.
Long relievers crumble
The Orioles spent the offseason concentrating on building pitching depth to serve as rotation and bullpen relief. But two left-handers who the organization has planned to lean on for those roles were roughed up for a second straight game.
In Friday's loss, Nuno yielded a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury that fueled the Yankees' comeback. Left-hander Jayson Aquino, whose strong spring training propelled him up the list of reserve pitchers, gave up the game-winning homer to Matt Holliday in the 10th on Friday.
Both pitchers were back in the game Saturday to provide length, but couldn't stop the bleeding. Nuno yielded Romine's two-run homer in the sixth and Aquino allowed a two-run homer to rookie slugger Aaron Judge. Both Aquino and Nuno were optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game.
"Jayson is better than that," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's shown us as a starter. Vidal had a good outing the last time out, the time before last. He hasn't been very good the last couple, so we'll continue to try and make the proper adjustments and I can after I finish talking to you all."
The club will likely have to make a roster move to add an additional reliever before Sunday's series finale.
Machado robbed by Headley
Machado is usually the one taking away hits at third base – in fact, the play commonly regarded as the best defensive play of his career took place at Yankee Stadium. But on Saturday, it was Machado who was robbed.
The Orioles had runners at first and second with one out in the third when Machado scorched a line drive down the third base line, coming off the bat at an exit velocity of 108.1 mph – the Orioles' hardest-hit ball of the game. But Headley made a lunging snare of Machado's liner.
The Orioles ended up stranding both base runners after Chris Davis grounded out to first to end the inning.
Schoop leaves game
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop left Saturday's game before the bottom of the seventh inning after he was hit in the left elbow by a pitch in the sixth.
Showalter said taking Schoop out of the game was precautionary. Schoop was replaced by Ryan Flaherty at second base.
"He got hit pretty good right there on the elbow," Showalter said. "Just like Chris Davis got hit by [CC] Sabathia in the elbow. That one's pretty sore. There's some weakness in it."
Showalter said Schoop tried to hit in the indoor batting cages to test the elbow, but he wasn't "able to push it much." Schoop will be re-evaluated Sunday.
"I knew when he got hit," Showalter said. "Jon's a tough kid. He got hit right above the elbow, which kind of compresses the nerves there. It's real weak. It usually manages itself good over 12-16 hours, but we'll see what it's like tomorrow. I didn't feel like there was a need for an X-ray from where it was hit."
Joseph ends RBI drought
The stars aligned again for Joseph to end his RBI drought in the sixth Saturday, but he struck out with runners on second and third to end the inning.
Joseph finally ended his dubious streak in the ninth, hitting a two-run homer into the Orioles bullpen off Yankees left-hander Tommy Layne.
Joseph didn't have an RBI in 141 plate appearances last season and his previous RBI came on Sept. 11, 2015.
"You do take something out of it," Showalter said. "You don't say, you can't celebrate that because we got beat. You do. It's a big deal for Caleb. I think he's handled it well, and we all know he's better than that."
Since he hit his homer with the Orioles down 10 runs in the ninth, Joseph tempered the release of breaking a long streak, making one clap of his hands as he rounded first base.
"I mean, you are in a tough spot because you are getting your you-know-what whipped," Joseph said. "You want to be excited because there's a lot of enduring there, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. All of them. But the most important thing is a W. We weren't able to put anything together today."