Entering the second half, the Yankees' doubters said that unless Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez maintain their torrid production, the team would probably face a challenge to stay on top in the AL East. Obviously it's quite early after the All-Star Break, but the duo has shown no signs of slowing down just yet. Both sluggers went yard off the Orioles' Kevin Gausman tonight, and a solid performance by Ivan Nova and the bullpen sent the Yankees home with their fifth consecutive series victory.
It looked like this game had a chance of turning into a blowout early on when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the home half of the first with a double down the right field line and Brett Gardner immediately brought him home with an RBI single to center. Gausman induced a pop-up from A-Rod, but he was not nearly as lucky with Tex. The first baseman took him deep to right field into the short porch for his 24th homer of the season. Carlos Beltran followed with a single and Brian McCann walked, but to Gausman's credit, he got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts. Although Gausman settled in to pitch a decent 5 2/3 innings after Teixeira's homer, the damage was done. A-Rod exacerbated problems by absolutely demolishing a Gausman pitch in the bottom of the fifth:
This was no Yankee Stadium Special. That blast went over 450 feet and it made the score 4-2, Yankees. It was the 20th homer of A-Rod's remarkable comeback season, the 16th time in his 21-year career that he has reached 20 dingers, and the first since 2010. Number 700 is starting to look like a serious possibility for next season--he's only 26 away now with a couple months to go in 2015. Get your popcorn ready.
Nova was shaky, but he did not break. In six innings of two-run ball, he allowed just three hits, though he did walk three with only three strikeouts while also allowing a two-run homer to the light-hitting Ryan Flaherty. It was a much better outing than his previous three showings though, so there's certainly encouragement to be drawn from his most recent start. Besides, when the Yankees' bullpen is as strong as it has shown, six decent innings are usually enough. Chasen Shreve and Dellin Betances twirled perfect innings in the seventh and eighth, and Andrew Miller only allowed a Yankee Stadium Special homer to Chris Davis on what would be a mere pop-up to right in any other park. It didn't matter; with Jonathan Schoop up as the tying run with two outs in the ninth, Miller struck him out swinging. The win was also the 700th of Joe Girardi's Yankees career, so cheers for him.
The O's had vague hopes of perhaps drawing to within a game of the Yankees through a sweep, but they now face the possibility of getting swept out of the Bronx and perhaps the division title race. Masahiro Tanaka will square off against Ubaldo Jimenez tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm on YES Network. Sweep 'em away!