NEW YORK -- It may have started in gut-punching fashion, but the Orioles left the Bronx on Sunday night feeling like they had just accomplished something significant.
Not only did they dominate in Sunday’s rubber match with an 8-0 blowout of the New York Yankees, but they beat pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka and captured the series even after losing Friday night on a walkoff homer in the ninth inning.
“It’s huge, especially with being a division game on the road,” Orioles designated hitter Steve Pearce said. “And especially with the resilience we showed with the first night losing in the late innings. And then we came back and win the next two. We battled together as a team.”
The most important development Sunday is that, with the win, the Orioles (39-35) have moved into a tie with the Yankees for second place in the American League East, 11/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.
Sunday’s subplots, though, were perhaps more interesting.
For one, the Orioles became the first AL team to hand Tanaka (11-2) a loss this year — the Chicago Cubs did it May 20, snapping Tanaka’s personal 34-game winning streak between Japan and the majors.
The Orioles also became the first team to beat the Yankees twice this season in a game that Tanaka has pitched. New York has won 12 of Tanaka’s 15 starts.
“It’s good timing,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Our guys did a good job of grinding, and he wasn’t carrying the same things that he’s usually armed with. We were fortunate not to catch a real good pitcher at the top of his game.”
Tanaka allowed three runs, six hi in seven innings on one walk and six hits, including a solo homer by rookie Jonathan Schoop.
Schoop, who entered Sunday batting just .150 in his previous 11 games, became the first major leaguer to homer twice against Tanaka when he hit a two-out solo shot in the second. That might sound familiar. Schoop’s first homer this season, on April 9, was in the second inning with no one on base and two outs. It, too, came on an elevated slider from Tanaka.
“It means a lot because he is the best pitcher there,” said Schoop, who has six homers this season. “And I got two off him and never imagined I would get two.”
Schoop, who also had an RBI groundout against Tanaka, didn’t even hit the most memorable homer of the afternoon.
“Really exciting. To do it in Yankee Stadium. Such a historic place,” said Joseph, a 28-year-old who spent seven seasons in the minors before his promotion in May. “More than hitting the home run, it’s taking two out of three against the Yankees and gaining some leverage. Winning in this atmosphere makes it even more sweet.”
As he was rounding the bases, Joseph knew that his teammates were going to give him the silent treatment in the dugout, as they have been doing lately after some other meaningful home runs. So Joseph ran into the dugout and straight out of sight.
“Ran into the tunnel and kind of hid for a few minutes until they called me back out,” Joseph said. “It was fun.”
The Orioles quietly were pumped for Joseph. Showalter said the dugout was intently watching whether the fan who caught the homer in the left-field stands would throw it back, so that Joseph could retain the souvenir for his own trophy case — they did.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman said he was watching Joseph’s swing on television.
“I was screaming like a little girl in the clubhouse, I was so happy for him,” Tillman said. “I’ve been playing with him for a while, so it’s awesome to see.”
Tillman (6-4) also was a huge part of Sunday’s win — allowing four hits and four walks in seven shutout innings. Since lasting just one inning while giving up five runs on June 5 in Texas, Tillman has yielded just four runs in his past 20 innings (1.80 ERA), spanning three straight quality starts. That’s a huge relief for a club that is counting on Tillman to be its No. 1 starter.
“It's coming, it's definitely coming,” Tillman said. “Still have a lot of baseball left, a lot of starts left, and you always want to improve every time. The second you get comfortable, they'll knock you right on your butt, so you've got to stay focused and got to keep working.”
The tone was set for Tillman to succeed after his first batter. Brett Gardner tripled to right field, but he slid off third base and was tagged by Manny Machado. Initially, Gardner was ruled safe, but Showalter challenged the call, which was reversed after a 2-minute, 38-second delay.
“It was big,” Tillman said. “[It’s] a little easier with one out and nobody on rather than a guy on third with no outs.”
Left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland threw two scoreless innings to complete the Orioles’ seventh shutout of the season — and secure a 4-2 road trip and a 4-2 season record versus New York so far this season at Yankee Stadium.
The offense, which also benefited from a bases-loaded double by J.J. Hardy in a four-run eighth, has posted its two biggest blowouts of the year against the Yankees.
In that eighth inning, there was some controversy that might carry over until the next time the clubs face each other in July at Camden Yards.
Pearce, who had two more singles and has had five straight multihit games, slid hard into third base on a forceout in an attempt to break up a potential double play.
It worked — Yankees third baseman Kelly Johnson threw wildly into the stands beyond first base, allowing runners to move up to second and third, and ultimately leading to Hardy’s back-breaking double.
But manager Joe Girardi took exception to Pearce’s slide, saying that he wasn’t close to the base. Replays backed up Girardi’s complaint and afterward the Yankees’ skipper had harsh words for Pearce.
“That was pretty malicious,” Girardi said. “I don't have a problem with playing hard. I took guys out [as a player]. But that's a pretty dangerous one because you're going after someone on the slide. And that's how you hurt your knees. I didn't think he made any attempt for the bag.”
Pearce responded by saying he wasn’t attempting to hurt Johnson.
“There was nothing malicious about it. I’m just playing the game. And if [Girardi] feels that way, I’m sorry. But personally I was not trying to hurt the guy,” Pearce said. “When I saw the replay, I was like, ‘Man I was far away.’ But, like I said, I was not trying to hurt Kelly over there. I was just trying to break up the double play.”
So add some potential bad blood into an afternoon in which the Yankees’ seemingly unbeatable starter lost on his home turf for the first time, and you have to think the Orioles did exactly what they wanted to do Sunday: Serve notice to the Yankees that they expect to be in the AL East race for a while.
“It means a lot because we were 1-1 [in the series]. And we came in today and won the series. That means a lot for the team,” Schoop said. “[Tanaka] is a really tough pitcher, and we’re a really good team, too.
“We respect him, and I hope he respects us, too.”