With a seven-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East entering Wednesday, the Baltimore Orioles had one more game with the team that has dominated them for years in the division before each side went their separate ways on the schedule.
And the O's won a swing game that the Yankees treated like a must-win. The win upped Baltimore's advantage over New York to eight games instead of potentially shrinking it to just six.
Adam Jones hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday to break a 2-2 tie and send Orioles fans home happy with a 5-3 win.
Yankees pitcher troubles
Jones' blast came off of Yankees reliever Shawn Kelly. But even more important might have been Jonathan Schoop's game-tying home run earlier in the frame. Schoop's 11th home run of the season tied the game off of Dellin Betances. The Yankees' best relief pitcher, and All-Star, was working on his third inning of work when he gave up the solo shot. Joe Girardi's aggressiveness in going to Betances in the sixth inning caught the attention of the ESPN broadcast team, which commented on how desperately the Yankees were treating the last game of the series in Baltimore.
The early bullpen usage also had to do with Michael Pineda's pitch count making his first start in almost four months. Pineda threw just 67 pitches in his first start coming off a major back injury, but Girardi wanted to take the nearly flawless outing from Pineda before Baltimore's powerful offense could catch on. Pineda allowed just two hits and one run via a sac fly in his five innings. He didn't walk a batter and left with a lead that the bullpen ultimately gave back. The start lowered Pineda's ERA to 1.82 for the season.
Yankees offense struggles after start
New York's first two runs came on one swing of the bat against Baltimore starter Chris Tillman. Francisco Cervelli worked a full count with a man on third base and one out in the third inning and Tillman hung a breaking ball, trying to be too careful in a 0-0 game early on. The rolling breaking ball hung up in the zone and Cervelli deposited it into the left center field seats for just his second home run of the season. That would be all the Yanks would get off Chris Tillman - and the last they would get in the game until they pushed a meaningless run across against Zach Britton in the ninth. Britton nailed down his 25th save of the season after bringing the tying-run to the plate.
With the Blue Jays fading fast in the division, the Orioles may have just fended off the biggest threat to them in the division. Baltimore has not won an AL East crown since 1997. The Yankees have won the division 12 times since then. The Orioles certainly won't count anyone out, but Wednesday's win helped Buck Showalter's team take a major step in the right direction.