Miguel Gonzalez found out the hard way how easy it is for left handed hitters to hit home runs in Yankee Stadium. The O’s rookie right hander gave up three long balls to southpaw hitters. Fortunately, though, he did a great job of keeping the Yankees off the bases otherwise, giving up just three other hits and no walks, as the Orioles hung on for a 5-4 win Monday night.
The Yankees took the lead early, on a two-out rally in the second. Raul Ibanez singled and advanced to second on a balk. Eric Chavez then ripped a line drive base hit down the right field line, scoring Ibanez for a 1-0 Yankees lead.
Wilson Betemit made short work of the Yankees lead, though, as he reached out for a 79 MPH, 1-1 slider from Yankees starter Freddy Garcia (L, 4-5), and lifted a home run (12) into the short porch in right leading off the third.
Betemit started the next O’s rally too. He led off the fifth with an infield hit, and moved to third on a double from Mark Reynolds. With no one out, the next two Orioles put on a display the likes their offense rarely pulls off: productive outs. Omar Quintanilla hit a sac fly to Curtis Granderson in center. Betemit scored, and a heads-up Reynolds moved to third. Next, Nick Markakis skied one to right. Reynolds beat Ichiro’s throw to the plate, making it 3-1 Orioles.
The Yankees came back with Ibanez’s 14th homer of the season leading off the bottom of the fifth, making it 3-2. But Gonzalez (W, 3-2) did a very nice job of navigating the Yankees lineup, getting Chavez and Ichiro on fly outs to Adam Jones in center, and Chris Stewart on a fly ball to Lew Ford in left.
The sixth presented an even more daunting task. Derek Jeter led off with a single. But Gonzalez struck out both Granderson and Mark Teixeira, and got Robby Cano on a fly ball to Ford.
An enormous Yankees mistake helped the Orioles tack on an imperative insurance run in the seventh. Reliever Boone Logan fanned both Betemit and Reynolds to start the inning. Then, with Markakis waiting on deck, Logan walked the number 9 hitter, Quintanilla. Markakis made him pay, crushing a 92 MPH fastball into the gap in right center and off the wall. Quintanilla scored on the double from Markakis, making it 4-2 Orioles.
David Phelps came on for the Yankees, replacing Logan. The first batter he faced, JJ Hardy, smoked a shot past Teixeira at first and into right. It was a terrific piece of hitting by the O’s shortstop, scoring Markakis by going with a fastball up and away. The Orioles led by three runs. As it turned out, they would need every one of them.
Having thrown 94 pitches, Gonzalez was sent back to the mound in the bottom of the seventh. He made short work of the first two Yankees up; Nick Swisher popped out to short on the third pitch he saw, and Ibanez struck out on three pitches. But Gonzalez hit the wall after that. Or, should we say, the wall hit him.
Eric Chavez hammered an elevated fastball into the luxury boxes in deep right field for his 9th home run of the year, making it 5-3. Five pitches later, Ichiro opened up on a 91 MPH belt high fastball and put it into the seats for his 100th career home run, and his first as a Yankee. Buck Showalter barely waited long enough for the new Yankee to finish rounding the bases before pulling Gonzalez. The young right hander, having come back from a terrible outing against Tampa Bay, gave a mighty effort through 6.2 innings. Three of the six hits he gave up went the distance, but he struck out eight Yankees and walked no one.
Darren O’Day slammed the door on the Yankees in the seventh, getting Russell Martin to fly out to center on two pitches. He was followed by Pedro Strop, who gave up a leadoff hit to Jeter in the eighth. Strop then settled down, retiring Granderson, Teixeira, and Cano, and setting the stage for closer Jim Johnson.
Johnson’s ERA since his first All-Star appearance has two numbers to the left of the decimal point. In his last save opportunity, Johnson was torched for six runs in the ninth Friday by the A’s. Another meltdown like that, this time to the hated Yankees, would be beyond deflating. Again, he entered with the tiniest margin for error, up just one run.
So when Swisher opened things up in the bottom of the ninth with a ground rule double, Orioles Nation could be forgiven for letting out a collective groan heard and felt from Ocean City to Oakland, MD…from Hanover, MD to Hanover, PA.
Swisher was replaced by pinch-runner Ramiro Pena. Ibanez, 2-3 on the night at that point with a home run, battled Johnson in a six-pitch at-bat. Johnson showed him just about every pitch in his arsenal, ranging from a 95 MPH fastball, to an 82 MPH changeup. On 2-2, Johnson snapped off a nice curve in the dirt that Ibanez chased, for a huge out number one.
Up stepped Chavez, 2-3 with a homer and 2 RBIs. Johnson started him with a 96 MPH fastball for a strike, then threw four straight balls. One out, with runners on first and second, and Ichiro stepped in, having gone 1-3 with his first Yankees homer. A bit impatient, perhaps, Ichiro saw just two pitches from Johnson, and tapped into a force out, Hardy to Quintanilla.
With two outs and runners on first and third, Ichiro stole second base. So with Russell Martin up, the Yanks had the tying run at third, the winning run at second, two outs against the struggling O’s closer, who, it seemed with each pitch, was redefining the “max” in max-effort.
With the count 2-2, and on pitch five of a five-pitch at-bat, Johnson got the veteran Yankees catcher to wave at and miss a beautiful, 95 MPH fastball, biting down and in with so much movement, it moved more like a left hander’s slider. From a righ hander. At 95 MPH. A filthy pitch for strike three, and the ball game. Save 31 for Johnson. Win 3 for Gonzalez, and a great win to start a tough road trip.
The O’s and Yankees meet up again Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, with Chris Tillman (3-1, 1.66) facing Ivan Nova (10-4, 4.08). First pitch: 7:05.
- When the Orioles beat the Yankees, it almost doesn’t even matter how. But this was a very well crafted win, complete with the long ball (Betemit), manufactured runs from positive outs (Quintanilla and Markakis), and timely hits (Markakis and Hardy) offensively, AND very solid pitching from Gonzalez, O’Day, Strop, and Johnson.
- It’s hard to overstate the importance of Johnson’s ability to hold the Yankees in the ninth. Obviously, the win is big. But we all know how fragile a closer’s mentality can be. A couple of blown saves in a row to a couple of teams you’re battling against in the race(s), and things can get ugly in a hurry. Great work from Johnson keeping it on lock down.
- Jim Thome will have an MRI back in Baltimore Tuesday, as his neck spasms continue to keep him out of the lineup. He hasn’t played since Friday night.