The Orioles were finally graced with a beautiful day for baseball and sent their hottest pitcher to the mound against the rival New York Yankees. But, well, that was about as good as Thursday was going to get.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman, who had pitched 13 2/3 scoreless innings over his previous two starts, gave up five runs in a hurry and the Yankees never looked back in a 9-1 rain-makeup victory before 14,946 at Camden Yards.
Though the Orioles (71-69) had fallen behind by five runs in Tuesday night’s dramatic late-night win, there would be no hint of a comeback this time. Yankees midseason acquisition Sonny Gray (9-9) was never in serious danger of losing his grip on the rubber game of the three-game series. He allowed no earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Gausman (10-10) walked the first batter (Brett Gardner) he faced, which turned out to be a sign of things to come. He struck out the next two batters, only to give up a run-scoring double to Didi Gregorius and a mammoth two-run home run to rookie sensation Aaron Judge that gave the Yankees an almost-instant three-run lead.
Things didn’t get better. The Yankees (75-64) scored two more runs off Gausman in the third and he did not come out for the fourth inning after needing 79 pitches to get through the first three. He walked a batter in each inning and gave up five hits. There was some bad luck mixed in there, but not enough to provide an alibi for his worst performance since he gave up eight runs to the Chicago Cubs coming out of the All-Star break.
“I wouldn’t say he didn’t have it,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “He had a couple of broken-bat singles. We talk a lot about winning the first inning. … Gardner had a big at-bat there and — you say there’s a bunch of outs, lot of game after that — but unless he could catch up an inning or two, it was going to be a challenge for him.
“I thought he had pretty good stuff. It just wasn’t his day.”
Gausman said he felt fine and gave credit to the Yankees for stretching him out with some tough at-bats at the outset.
“They just battled and fought off a lot of good pitches and obviously left a pitch up to Judge,’’ he said. “But overall, just wasn’t throwing enough strikes. I’ve got to go deeper in that game. It was a pretty important game for us. I’m pretty mad at myself for going out there and throwing  pitches in three innings. It’s something I’ve got to get better at.”
If the Orioles were even pondering another big comeback, the Yankees quickly put the notion to rest by taking a big swing at reliever Mike Wright in the fourth. He came on and got the first out of the inning, then allowed a double to Gardner and another long home run to first baseman Chase Headley. Also homering for the Yankees were third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Starlin Castro, who also homered in the series opener Monday night.
The Orioles finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth, when Adam Jones scored on a throwing error by Gregorius.
With a win, the Orioles would have completed a successful homestand that boosted them back into the thick of the American League wild-card race. Instead, they settled for a winning record (6-4) and left town on a sour note.
The first stop on a 10-game trip that will likely decide whether the Orioles remain in playoff contention is Cleveland to face the Indians, who entered their Thursday night game against the Chicago White Sox riding a 14-game winning streak.
The Orioles also visit Toronto and New York, wrapping up the trip with a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Judging Judge: Judge came up in the first inning with two outs, a runner at second and first base open, but Gausman said after the game that there was no thought of pitching around him.
“If I make a couple of good pitches down and away, he probably grounds out there,” Gausman said.
The home run was Judge’s 39th of the season and he’s on the way to the AL Rookie of the Year Award, but he has had his struggles at the plate lately. When he makes contact on a 1-0 count, however, he’s batting .519 (14-for-27).
Hays’ debut: Top outfield prospect Austin Hays made his major league debut Thursday, playing an inning in the outfield and taking the final at-bat of the game. He hung in against Yankees reliever Ben Heller, fouling off three pitches before grounding out on a close play at first base.