The Orioles beat the Yankees, 8-7, in 12 innings despite a 5-0 deficit in the first inning. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
A daunting first road trip that pitted the Orioles against the class of the American League was always going to raise questions about the club. It turned out the answers, however delayed, were pretty satisfying.
In Sunday's matinee with the New York Yankees, the Orioles erased a five-run first-inning deficit, lost a late-inning lead, and slipped ahead for a second signature win in this series, an 8-7, 12-inning victory.
After playing 14 innings and winning on a grand slam by Pedro Álvarez on Friday night in the Bronx, Álvarez came off the bench and scored the winning run. He walked in the top of the 12th, went to second on a single by rookie right fielder Anthony Santander, and scored when left fielder Craig Gentry won an 11-pitch at-bat and singled past the shortstop.
In the home half of the inning, closer Brad Brach walked two batters, committed an error trying to field a bunt to load the bases, then started a 1-2-5 double play with catcher Caleb Joseph on a chopper from Aaron Judge before striking out Giancarlo Stanton to clinch his second save of the season. The Orioles arrived in New York on a five-game losing streak, and after taking three of four here, return home for a three-game set with Toronto at 4-6.
"Those things, people want to say, are catapults," manager Buck Showalter said. "But the season is so long and there's so many ups and downs and so many emotional tugs that you try to stay pretty even keeled. But I want our guys to feel good about it."
"It's been extremely eventful, that's definitely for sure, but really a great series for us," said reliever Richard Bleier, who pitched three shutout innings on his third day of use in a row. "Things weren't looking that great against Houston, we got swept, and then to come in here, a place where we historically don't play well, to take three of four is really impressive. I think it's a good turnaround."
Orioles right-hander Mike Wright Jr. has bounced back from plenty of struggles as he looks to solidify himself as a major league starter. Sunday's nightmare against the Yankees might be one bridge too far.
That Sunday's game was even a contest, let alone one that would require extra innings, is a credit to the offense and the team's relief corps after Mike Wright Jr. allowed five runs while recording two outs before he was pulled in the first inning.
"I never felt like we were out of it, from the time I came back into the dugout until the end of it," Wright said. "I think that's awesome, the way the team battled."
Once Wright assigned it as the Orioles' afternoon task, the comeback didn't take long to begin. Tim Beckham doubled to lead off the second inning and scored on a single by Santander. Jonathan Schoop led off the third inning with a single and, after he moved to second on a single by Adam Jones, scored on Beckham's second knock of the day. And after a one-out single by Jones in the fifth, designated hitter Danny Valencia crushed a 443-foot blast off lefty Jordan Montgomery to bring the Orioles to within 5-4.
All the while, the Orioles bullpen was posting zeroes. Pedro Araujo allowed just one hit while striking out five in 2 1/3 innings. Miguel Castro pitched a scoreless fifth, but allowed a run in the sixth to put the Orioles back down 6-4. No matter. Gentry led off the sixth with a single, stole second base, and scored on a two-out single by Manny Machado.
After a clean sixth inning from Tanner Scott, Santander clobbered a 3-0 fastball over the right-field fence with Valencia on first base after a walk to put the Orioles ahead.
It was Santander's first career home run, and the team's reward for giving the 23-year-old Rule 5 draft pick so much leeway to establish himself this season.
But Scott was asked for a second inning on the day he arrived, and the one-out single by Tyler Austin came around to score on a single by Austin Romine off Darren O'Day.
From there, neither side mustered much as the shadows crept across the infield at Yankee Stadium and extra innings arrived.
With one out in the tenth, shortstop Didi Gregorius hit a fly ball to medium center field that Jones initially tracked, but lost in the sun. He waved his arms as it fell beside him, and Gregorius was on second base. With the outfield pulled in for Brett Gardner, a looping drive to left field turned Gentry around, but he sprawled to make the catch. The Orioles then walked Judge intentionally to get to Stanton, who grounded out on the next pitch.
Bleier, who faced one batter and got a double play Saturday after pitching 1 2/3 innings Friday, gave the Orioles three shutout innings. The bullpen pitched 11 1/3 innings of relief Sunday, allowing two runs.
That the Orioles reversed their early misfortune and, in the process, ensured they'd already won more games in the Bronx than all of last season, calmed plenty of early nerves about the team. The April schedule still includes a visit to the two-time defending division champion Boston Red Sox and a visit from the Cleveland Indians. But a 3-4 road trip against Houston and New York kept the team afloat.
"It was huge for us," Gentry said. "We were a little down after the Houston series, but I thought we definitely battled the last two days there and just couldn't come out with anything. But we showed what type of team we are in this series. We played two long ones and just fought the whole time. We were in a big hole today and just kept fighting, and it just shows a lot of character on the team."
Said Joseph: "This team is similar to the '14 team. We talked about it earlier. There's a never-die mentality. It's almost if we get better as the game goes on, kind of like a diesel engine. Once you get it revved up, it'll go forever. It was a lot of resilience this series. Could have easily kind of laid down. They had some momentum a couple of times in those extra innings. We had some pitchers really step up, give us a chance. We got some clutch hits. Really gratifying, but there's another team waiting at home for us so we have to enjoy it short, then get ready for the next series."