On Tuesday night, the Yankees did what they should do, easily handling the Orioles in a 7-2 win. Over the next two games, the Yankees haven’t quite done their job, failing to separate from the O’s and finding themselves locked in uncomfortably tight battles with the lackluster Baltimore side. They took the first two of the series, but just couldn’t get the sweep across the finish line. With a chance to move into sole possession of a playoff spot, the Yankees lost in crushing fashion by the score of 3-2.
For most of the night, the pitching provided a bright spot, starting with Jordan Montgomery’s performance. The southpaw entered the game knowing full well how little his offense likes to support him and dialed in accordingly. His only jam came in the third, as one-out singles from Richie Martin and Cedric Mullins put two on. Montgomery recovered with a strikeout and a groundout to extinguish the threat.
Otherwise, Montgomery was never in trouble. He had the Orioles off-balance with every part of his five-pitch mix, freezing righties with fading changeups and inducing whiffs from lefties with sharp curveballs. The sole damage Baltimore managed came in the sixth, when Ryan Mountcastle led off with a solo shot. The middle-middle sinker Mountcastle crushed represented Montgomery’s only bad mistake of the night.
On the whole, this was one of Montgomery’s finest outings of the season. Outside of the Mountcastle dinger, Montgomery scattered five singles, and walked just one batter. He struck out 12 to set a career high, while also bringing his season strikeout total to a career-high 149.
Since this was a Montgomery start, however, the Yankee lineup refused to muster much run support. The Bombers threatened Orioles starter Chris Ellis early, but spent the majority of the night making minimal noise.
All of the offense came in the second inning, as Joey Gallo opened the scoring with a high-arching solo home run to right, his 35th of 2021. Gallo got slightly under an Ellis changeup, but drove the pitch with enough oopmh to get her over the wall:
What’s the opposite of shallow? Gallo. pic.twitter.com/K0aAkXvE5f— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 16, 2021
This came a day after Aaron Boone sought to rest Gallo twice in the span of five games. Perhaps the slugger needed a breather, but it’s not hard to make the argument that the prized deadline acquisition needs to be in the lineup pretty much every day from here on out.
The Yankees grinded Ellis from there, but couldn’t blow the contest open. Gary Sánchez and Tyler Wade drew walks to put two on for Gio Urshela, who drove home Sánchez with an opposite-field double for a quick 2-0 lead:
They had the chance to create needed breathing room, but a Brett Gardner popup and Giancarlo Stanton groundout stranded a pair of runners in scoring position.
Ellis was unable to work efficiently, issuing a handful of free passes and seeing his pitch count approach 90 in the fifth inning. After a Stanton single in that frame, Ellis gave way to reliever Fernando Abad. Anthony Rizzo greeted Abad with a double, and an intentional walk to Gleyber Torres brought Gallo back up with the bases loaded, two outs, and a chance to open up the game. Gallo pulled another high drive, but this one died at the warning track, a few feet short of a grand slam.
Montgomery departed with two outs in the sixth and a 2-1 advantage. With fresh, reliable relief options scarce, Boone was forced to turn to the young Albert Abreu after Montgomery. Abreu did a fine job, working one inning while walking one. From there, it was Joely Rodríguez’s turn, with the lefty retiring the final batter of the seventh. Clay Holmes entered to start the eighth, navigating the frame ably before coming back out for the ninth in an attempt to record his first career save.
He would come oh-so-close. Holmes yielded a one-out single to DJ Stewart, who was pinch-run for by Kelvin Gutierrez. Gutierrez advanced on a wild pitch, and took third on a groundout. With a full count, two down, and the tying run 90 feet from pay dirt, Holmes uncorked another wild pitch, surrendering the lead on the precipice of victory.
This matchup seemed to sit on a razor’s edge all night. The Yankees never blew the game open like they should have, and had to go to the underbelly of their weary pitching staff, providing a sense of hope for the Orioles throughout. Moreover, a persistent rain kept the field of play damp from the middle innings onward, ensuring that the threat of a delay remained ever-present. It’s fitting that it all came down to the final strike with a runner on third.
In extras, the lineup stayed silent. Aaron Judge, Rizzo, and Torres went down in order to set the Orioles up. With Wandy Peralta on the mound, Baltimore quickly loaded the bases in the home half of the tenth with a bunt single and an intentional walk. Peralta struck out Mountcastle, but allowed a run-scoring groundball into left off the bat of Austin Hays. Jahmai Jones rumbled home, and one more wrenching, mind-numbing Yankee loss was etched into the record books.
The Yankees had their chances. They didn’t put consistent traffic on the basepaths, but they still had a couple opportunities to take a secure lead early in the game against a 99-loss team. They failed to do so, and rued that failure when the bullpen finally cracked in the ninth. The frustrating finish ultimately turned this struggle with the Orioles into a suitable microcosm for this season. A fine pitching performance, a near-no show on offense, and a conclusion that tantalized as much as it infuriated. The 2021 New York Yankees, in a nutshell.
If the season ended today, the Yankees would not make the postseason. Both the Blue Jays and Red Sox were off tonight, so New York drops a half-game behind their two rivals. With 15 games left, the Yankees simply cannot afford to drop anymore games like this. It’s unclear whether they can afford to drop even this one.