A few weeks ago, it appeared that right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez had made his last start in an Orioles uniform when he was sent to the bullpen, but in Sunday's 6-4 series finale win at Yankee Stadium, he provided the kind of start this floundering team desperately needed.
Jiménez's outing was a strange one, because he dominated New York Yankees hitters by holding them to one run on four base runners while striking out 10 batters. But his outing was limited to five innings because of a deep pitch count that put him at 100 pitches after his final batter.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has drawn criticism this season for sticking with Jiménez too long in some games, and he wasted no time turning to his bullpen Sunday.
Jiménez's four years in an Orioles uniform have been a roller coaster as he has battled inconsistencies and flaws in his mechanics while moving in and out of the starting rotation.
But on Sunday, he carried exemplary stuff, particularly with his splitter, getting four of his 10 strikeouts — all of them swinging — on the pitch against a Yankees lineup that refused to expand the zone in any of its previous three games this series, all New York wins.
While pitching effectively down in the strike zone with the splitter, he worked the Yankees high in the zone with his four-seam fastball, also recording four strikeouts on that pitch.
"Yeah, I think the main reason was because we attacked them with the fastball," Jiménez said about the effectiveness of his split. "The fastball was really good today. It was hard and I was able to command it. So that made the split even better."
The final six outs recorded by Jiménez were by strikeout.
"I felt good," Jimenez said. "It felt really good to be able to be able to contribute and be there for the team. I haven't been able to do that too many times, but it feels really good give them a chance. … You've seen everything they've done, especially in the last few days scoring a lot of runs. But it's a matter of them having a really good lineup, especially in this ballpark, everything can be a home run. But I think that I just went out there to try to compete. That was the kind approach I had, to attack the hitter and make them swing the bat."
The only run Jiménez allowed against the Yankees was a homer to Didi Gregorius in the second inning.
The reason he struggled to go deeper: He threw just five of 19 first-pitch strikes.
Britton with four-out save: Closer Zach Britton hasn't received many four-out save opportunities, and he blew his last one Tuesday in Toronto as a one-run ninth-inning lead quickly unraved into the Blue Jays' walk-off win.
Preserving a 6-1 lead wasn't easy. Mychal Givens allowed a two-run double with two outs in the sixth, and Brad Brach found trouble in the eighth when Aaron Judge hit a leadoff double, and shortstop Tim Beckham's throwing error put runners at the corners with one out.
A sacrifice fly by Starlin Castro scored Judge, but Brach walked Matt Holliday, and Showalter turned the game to Britton with two on and two outs in the eighth.
Britton's last blown save came in the four-out opportunity Tuesday, when he escaped the eighth easily but allowed two runs in the ninth.
On Sunday, Showalter let Britton face the potential winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. With the Orioles' clinging to a 6-4 lead, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a one-out double down the left-field line, and after he moved to third on Brett Gardner's groundout to first base, Showalter ordered Judge walked intentionally so the Orioles could face Gary Sánchez instead.
Britton overmatched Sánchez, striking him out on five pitches, getting him to swing through three low sinkers to end the game. The four-out save was Britton's second this season of his 15 overall and first since Aug. 5 against the Detroit Tigers.
Beckham with the big blow: Beckham provided the biggest hit of the series for the Orioles, hitting a three-run homer off Yankees starter Sonny Gray in the fourth inning that gave the Orioles a 5-1 lead.
Beckham, who hit .394 with 50 hits in August in his first month with the Orioles, entered Sunday batting just .164 with 19 strikeouts in 15 September games.
"Not in his personality or the way he approaches things. He's been the same guy, and the way his teammates and we treat him is the same. It's impossible to do what he was doing," Showalter said. "If you ran those August numbers over a season, he'd probably have the best year in the history of baseball, so I try to keep that in mind. This is hard to do, and we're facing good pitching."
A matchup with Gray, whom Beckham was 5-for-10 against entering the day, helped him break out.
In his third at-bat of the game, Beckham turned on a 2-1 hanging slider from Gray, sending it over the left-center-field fence for his 22nd homer of the season and his 10th in 45 games with the Orioles.
"Felt better to win," Beckham said. "Felt good to put the bat on the ball, yeah. I'm not thinking about a tough stretch, just want to go in the game get quality ABs. Big win for us today and hopefully we can get rolling."
Hays keeps hitting: With Adam Jones out of the lineup for the second time in three games, it gave Austin Hays another opportunity to start in center field, marking the first time he's started back-to-back games in his major league career.
Hays' RBI single in the second gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead. He added his second hit in the sixth inning with a single.
In both at-bats, Hays took a pitch over the outer part of the plate and put it in play for a hit.
It was Hays’ second straight multihit game.
Trey Mancini’s third-inning run-scoring double broke a 1-all tie. After Beckham’s homer, the Orioles extended their lead in the fifth on Seth Smith’s RBI groundout.