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Yankees 4, Orioles 3: “A Microcosm of the Season” indeed

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A seemingly quiet game nearly went up in flames, but thanks to Brett Gardner, the Yankees escaped with a win.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Brett Gardner capped off a ninth-inning rally with a two-run bloop single as the Yankees snatched victory from the jaws of a devastating defeat to overcome the Baltimore Orioles, 4-3. A loss would’ve put them behind the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, but the Yankees managed to survive, maintaining the status quo for another night.

Down 3-2 after blowing an eighth-inning lead, Luke Voit opened the top of the ninth for the Yankees by working a walk off reliever Tyler Wells; Tyler Wade immediately pinch-ran, which would later prove to be decisive. One out later, Gleyber Torres singled to put runners on first and second. Wade and Torres then executed a double-steal, removing the game-ending double-play from the equation and forcing the Orioles to bring the infield in.

With two hits on the day already, Brett Gardner then proceeded to drop a third perfectly into No Man’s Land:

Wade scored easily, but Torres — who was in many ways responsible for the deficit — was the one who made the big play.

I know it’s popular to dunk on Torres right now, and for good reason, but this was a fantastic play. He got a good read on the ball off the bat, knew that the infield was in, recognized that the ball was going to be very difficult to catch, and took off to be in a position to score. Is it possible that Richie Martin could have caught that? Absolutely — and if he had, that would have been a game-ending double-play. But it would have taken a fantastic play. There’s a time and a place for aggression on the basepaths, and this was it. Will it always work? No. But it was still the right move here.

That exciting ninth inning would not have been necessary, however, had the Yankees been able to preserve the 2-1 lead that they held heading into the previous half-inning. Catcher Austin Wynns opened up the frame with a single off the bat of Chad Green. Cedric Mullins then laced a line drive at the feet of Torres, setting up what should have been an easy 4-6-3 double play ... except Torres simply threw to first, allowing the tying run to remain on base and move to second.

Wynns then advanced to third on a wild pitch that was very far outside, and while Green got Ryan Mountcastle to strike out swinging on a pitch that was off the plate, Austin Hays hit his second home run of the evening to give the Orioles a 3-2 lead.

Wandy Peralta would end the bleeding there, allowing the Yankees to mount a comeback, but even so, this performance by Green continued a stretch that is, to put it bluntly, not good. The once-reliable righty has now given up a home run in three straight games for a total of 14 on the season, a career high. While one could make the case that Hays would not have even come to the plate had Torres played proper defense, the Yankees still need to figure out what’s wrong with Green if they want to succeed during the final two weeks.

What must not be forgotten in the excitement of the later innings is just how good Néstor Cortes Jr. was tonight. As mentioned in the game preview, Cortes has thrown lights-out ball in recent weeks, but tonight he took his game to the next level. Taking advantage of home plate umpire Ryan Additon’s wide strike zone, he held the Orioles offense to just a single run on three hits, striking out 11 — four more than his previous career high — and walking only a pair in 6.1 innings.

Cortes absolutely befuddled Baltimore’s hitters, who produced only five hard-hit balls and one barrel against him when they did make contact; that amounted to an xBA of just .180. He recorded three strikeouts in two separate innings, working around a double and a walk in the second and striking out the side in the fourth. In the process, he made history, as the 2021 Yankees became the first team in franchise history to have six different pitchers record 10-strikeout games.

Cortes’ lone mistake came off courtesy of a two-out solo shot off the bat of Hays, whom he fanned in his first two plate appearances. All of this combines to be the best start of Cortes’ career, and one of the best of the season by any Yankees pitcher. I know pitcher wins aren’t all that important, but it’s a shame he didn’t get credited with the victory.

Of course, none of this would have been an issue if the Yankees offense had, you know, managed to score more than two runs in the first eight innings against literally the worst pitching staff in the American League. As a reminder, the O’s have given up an average of 6.00 runs per game, 0.88 runs more than the second-worst Minnesota Twins.

Yankees hitters managed just five hits prior to the ninth. Fortunately, one of those hits was a two-run shot off the bat of Gio Urshela in the third that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead:

Recorded at 102.6 mph off the bat and traveling 397 feet, that was Urshela’s first home run since July 4.

Sánchez can also be absolved of all blame, as he drilled the ball twice, but unfortunately both drives found gloves. In the top of the second, Mullins reached over the wall to reel back in what would have been a two-run shot, using all of his 5-foot-8 frame and fighting off a fan in the process.

Sánchez then proceeded to lead off the top of the seventh by roping a line drive 111.1 mph down the third base line, a hit with an xBA of .820, but which found the glove of Kelvin Gutierrez. Sometimes, luck isn’t on your side, and tonight, it wasn’t for Sánchez. If he can continue to string together batted balls like this, however, the Yankees should be able to put up more runs than they did for most of tonight.

Outside of those two and Gardner, the Yankees offense floundered against a weak pitching staff. John Means is the Orioles’ ace, and it’s fine that they didn’t light him up, but he only went 5.2 innings. Baltimore doesn’t have a great bullpen; a contender has to score against them.

After two straight half-innings with lead changes, Aroldis Chapman came in to nail down the save, making his third appearance in as many days. Fortunately, he pitched an uneventful frame, setting down the Orioles in order. Michael Kay was right; this game was indeed “a microcosm of the season.”

Peralta gets credit with the win and improves to 5-3, while Wells falls to 2-3; Chapman gets credit with his 27th save of the year. With the win, the Yankees improved to 82-64, clinching their 29th consecutive season with a winning record. The Red Sox and Blue Jays both won, leaving the AL Wild Card race in a virtual tie for another night.

The Yankees conclude the season series with the Orioles tomorrow evening with an unusual 5:05 pm ET start time. Jordan Montgomery gets the ball for the Yankees as they go for a critical series sweep; he will be up against righty Chris Ellis.

Box Score.