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The Yankees’ maddening failure to put away the Orioles might haunt them

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The rest of baseball thumped Baltimore while New York barely stayed above water.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Yankees wrapped up their season series against Baltimore on Thursday night with a dispiriting, if all-too-predictable loss wherein the Bombers’ bats were missing in action against one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. A thorough post-mortem on how New York played against Baltimore in 2021 might come at some point. Today though, I want to look at how the Yankees failed to win close games against Baltimore, and how those defeats loom over a playoff chase that legitimately could end with three teams tied for two spots, or with the Yankees on the outside looking in.

Of the Yankees’ despicably large total of eight losses versus Baltimore this season, five of them featured New York losing by one run. In only one of those five losses did the Yankee offense score more than four runs – on September 5th when they fell to the Orioles 8-7. Today in “depressing 2021 factoids,” Baltimore beat New York THREE times this season by the score of 4-3. So let’s look at that triad of losses. A slightly less anemic Yankees offense would have produced a three-game swing in the standings. That is a cushion this club could desperately use.

It got late early in the Bronx this year, as the late, great Yogi Berra might have said. On April 7th, in the sixth game of the season, New York portended how things would go against the Orioles for too much of 2021. In the final game of a three-game set, with the Yankees eyeing a sweep, the bats went silent when it mattered, ultimately allowing the Orioles emerge with a 4-3 victory in 11 innings.

It is hard to blame the pitching staff for this one. In his first start of the season, Jameson Taillon allowed two runs in 4.2 innings. From there, Nick Nelson, Darren O’Day, Johnathan Loáisiga, and Aroldis Chapman held the Orioles scoreless. Unfortunately, the Yankee offense could only muster two runs off an Oriole staff that was begging to give up many, many more. The bats went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. On-brand for the 2021 Yankees, the game even featured a bases-loaded double play to kill an inning.

Le plus ça change… three weeks later, in Baltimore this time, the Yankees again lost 4-3 to the Orioles, with the winning run scoring during extras. Unbelievably, or perhaps infuriatingly, the bats again went 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base.

Forgive me for being a broken record, but once again, tough to blame the pitching. Jordan Montgomery, Chad Green, O’Day, and Chapman held Baltimore to 3 runs in regulation. Unfortunately, a lineup that featured batting averages of .231 (Gleyber Torres hitting third), .184 (Rougned Odor hitting fifth), .139 (Aaron Hicks hitting sixth), .190 (Gary Sánchez hitting seventh), .150 (Clint Frazier hitting eighth), and .182 (Brett Gardner hitting ninth) was wholly incapable of providing more than minimal run support.

The fifth inning was emblematic in this one. With the bases loaded and no one out, Torres flew out, Urshela struck out, and after Odor mercifully singled in two runs, Aaron Hicks grounded out. 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Again. Cannot stress that enough. Here. Have a positive highlight. Rougie’s two-run single.

Skip forward to September 4th. Though the result, a 4-3 loss to the Orioles, stayed the same, the Yankees found a new way to keep losing to… checks the standings… yep, the worst team in the American League. By managing four hits in nine innings, the Yankees broke their streak of going 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position in these losses… they went 1-for-6 this time, instead. 7-for-34 in these three losses for anyone keeping track.

Facing starter Chris Ellis and the shutdown Orioles bullpen, the Yankees manage a paltry four baserunners in the first six innings. How many of those were base hits, you ask? One. A first-inning, two-out double from Aaron Judge that Stanton promptly followed with a line-out to center field. To the Yankees credit, they scored three runs total in the seventh and eighth innings to fight back. But that just meant there was zero margin of error going into a tied final frame.

And zero margin of error where Aroldis Chapman is concerned recently is terrifying. Predictably perhaps, a ninth inning Pedro Severino sacrifice fly gave Baltimore its 4-3 lead. In the bottom half, the Bombers fecklessly went ground out, pop up, and strike out to end the game. We can all suffer together.

Perhaps this would all be less painful if the Orioles featured a buzz saw pitching staff that mows down opposing lineups with aplomb. Spoiler alert for anyone who has not watched the Orioles this season: this is not the case.

Even after they held down New York Thursday night, the Orioles staff registers eye-popping statistics like a 5.89 team ERA, an 80 ERA+, 234 homeruns allowed, and a WHIP of 1.492. And just in case boring statistics don’t drive home how bad this pitching staff has been, we’ll always have the three-game stretch against the Blue Jays a week ago, wherein the O’s surrendered 44 runs. Meanwhile, it seems insurmountable for New York to score 4 or more when it matters.

Losses to Baltimore matter much as losses to other teams. And losses in April count the same on the final ledger as those in September. After wrapping up their season series against the Yankees, the Orioles have a .322 winning percentage. Against New York, it’s .444. Against the rest of baseball minus the Yankees, it’s .305. New York inexplicably, inexcusably failed to beat the Orioles the way they should have this season, and all the Bombers and Yankee fans can do is hope those losses don’t doom a club fighting for its playoff life.