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Orioles fall to Yankees, 3-1, suffer four-game sweep as playoff hopes dwindle

The Orioles arrived in the Bronx with an opportunity. They’ll return to Baltimore having wasted it.

The New York Yankees completed a four-game sweep with a 3-1 victory to bury the Orioles in the American League’s playoff standings, with Gleyber Torres' pinch-hit, two-run double with two outs in the eighth serving as the decisive blow. Baltimore’s lineup, meanwhile, managed only three runs across 33 innings in a quartet of defeats that left the Orioles 5½ games behind New York in the hunt for an AL wild-card spot after they began the series only 1½ games back.

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“You’re just not gonna win games against the New York Yankees scoring one run," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said.

Sunday’s loss, like Saturday’s, featured a wasted performance from a foundational rotation piece. All-Star left-hander John Means continued his strong stay in New York with another six innings of one-run ball, again using decreased velocity with improved command to great effect.

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But like Dean Kremer before him, Means got little backing from the offense. Renato Núñez’s wall-scraping home run in the second inning accounted for all of Baltimore’s scoring.

The lead vanished in the third when Yankees shortstop Tyler Wade evened the game with a homer, but Means prevented further damage over the rest of his outing. After loading the bases with one out in the fourth, he allowed only one other base runner as he completed the sixth.

The Orioles (20-26) couldn’t break through for him.

“It was a tough one," Means said. "You’d like to beat those guys and try to get a leg up in the playoff race, but I really do have confidence that we’re going to bounce back. I think that this next series is gonna go well. I think that it was kind of a wake-up call, and every team needs that.

“It kind of lit a fire under us.”

The Orioles got their first two batters on in the fifth against left-hander J.A. Happ, with Pat Valaika doubling and moving to third on Rio Ruiz’s single, Baltimore’s only hit with a runner in scoring position Sunday. A grounder to third led to Valaika getting caught between there and home for the first out, and the inning ended when Ruiz was caught at third on a double-steal attempt as Hanser Alberto, who leads in baseball in hits against left-handed pitchers over the past two years, struck out on a full-count slider from Happ.

“If I’m ever going to run 3-2, first and second, it’s going to be with Hanser Alberto with a left-hander on the mound," Hyde said. "I would say about 99% of the time he’s going to make contact, especially against J.A. Happ, a contact-type guy, and it just didn’t happen.”

Pedro Severino worked an 11-pitch walk with two outs in the sixth against Adam Ottavino, and Núñez followed with a single, but DJ Stewart popped out against Jonathan Holder to end the threat. The Orioles went 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position in the sweep after scoring 52 runs in their first eight September games.

Dillon Tate, a former Yankees farmhard the Orioles acquired in trading Zack Britton to New York in 2018, replaced Means in the seventh and retired the first five Yankees he faced. But Aaron Hicks' two-out single preceded an infield single from Clint Frazier that Núñez couldn’t make a clean play on. Hyde called on left-hander Tanner Scott to face Brett Gardner. Torres, who homered 13 times against the Orioles in 2019, pinch-hit and scored both runners with his double.

“You extend innings, and that’s what happens against good teams," Hyde said. “I just think we got beat. I just think we didn’t score. We were swinging the bat well, playing well coming into this series, and we just didn’t swing the bat these four games against arms that are here for a reason and postseason-tested. We just have to get a lot better against these guys."

Short porch

In any other ballpark, Sunday’s game might have still been scoreless when Torres doubled.

The Orioles scored first when Núñez sent Happ’s first pitch of the second inning into the front row of seats in right field. The ball had a projected distance of 338 feet, among the 20 shortest home runs hit this season, according to Statcast.

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Wade nearly matched Núñez with a projected 340-foot home run off a slider from Means in the third. The pair of homers ranked as the two shortest hit at Yankee Stadium this season, per Statcast.

Hays nearing return

The Orioles’ scuffling offense could soon get a boost in the form of Opening Day center fielder Austin Hays, who should come off the injured list early in the Orioles' upcoming homestand.

“I could see him being activated here in the next couple days,” Hyde said.

Hays looked primed for a breakout in 2020 after hitting .309/.373/.574 in last season’s September call-up, but he got off to a slow start, landing on the injured list with a broken rib and a .203/.273/.246 batting line. An inside-the-park home run accounted for his only extra-base hit.

Hyde said he expects to play both Hays and Mullins in center field going forward, with Ryan Mountcastle and Stewart continuing to get work in the corners, as well.

“I’m looking for him just to go play,” Hyde said. "I believe in the player. I like his game a lot. I don’t think he got off to the start that he had in mind, but he finished the year so well last year. I think he’s extremely talented. I like him defensively. I like him offensively. I like that he’s able to hit the ball to all fields. I think he’s got some juice where he can drive the ball out to the opposite field.

“I’m not looking for him to put pressure on himself to play well these last couple weeks, that he’s getting evaluated. I just want him to go play because I think, the organization, we’re really high on him and think he’s going to be a really good major league player.”

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