NEW YORK - Two teams with separate agendas met tonight in the Bronx, the Yankees trying to clinch a playoff berth and home wild card game, the Orioles trying to impose their influence from last place.
The word “spoiler” wasn’t uttered in the visiting clubhouse, but it fit. Be the fly swirling around in the ointment. Burrow under the skins of the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros before scattering for the winter.
There isn’t much else to play for other than individual achievements. Becoming a hurdle in a pennant race has its appeal.
The Yankees cleared it tonight, getting an early two-run homer from Didi Gregorius off Yefry Ramírez and surviving a furious Orioles comeback in a 10-8 victory.
Aaron Hicks also hit a two-run homer off Ramírez, who threw 90 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, and the Orioles fell to 44-109 overall and 17-59 on the road.
Renato Núñez and DJ Stewart hit two-run homers in the eighth to reduce the lead to 9-8, but Aaron Judge scored Aaron Hicks with a double off Paul Fry in the bottom half and the Orioles finally ran out of gas.
Adam Jones had a two-run single off CC Sabathia in the fifth inning. Austin Wynns, charged with two passed balls, greeted reliever Jonathan Loaisiga with a home run in the seventh and Jonathan Villar grounded an RBI single into right field off Zach Britton to shave the lead to 6-4, but the Yankees retaliated with three runs.
Núñez’s two-run homer off A.J. Cole in the eighth and Stewart’s two-run shot on replacement David Robertson’s first pitch made the game more interesting but couldn’t influence the outcome or the likely changes that are coming.
The season is down to nine games that could close out manager Buck Showalter’s tenure in Baltimore. An announcement, however it’s delivered, is supposed to come quickly rather than drag through the offseason, as I wrote earlier today. And there’s been a growing sense around the club and within the industry that Showalter no longer has the same support.
Showalter hasn’t been told whether his contract will be renewed. It won’t be termed a firing or dismissal if he isn’t retained because his deal expires after the season.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette hasn’t been a regular presence on road trips this summer, but he’s in New York and will accompany the team to Boston. He stated today that he expected ownership to make its decisions after the final game, insinuating that he hasn’t been informed whether he’s staying.
The ripple effect will shake up the organization with its clear division between personnel tied to Showalter and Duquette. How much would Showalter’s departure influence coaches, player development and scouting?
There are lots of people on the payroll who also are on edge.
Ramírez got back into the rotation and is viewed as a starting candidate next spring, with the ability to transition back to the bullpen in a long-relief/swingman role. He couldn’t handle the Yankees tonight, allowing six runs and six hits with three walks before Ryan Meisinger replaced him in the fourth.
The first two Yankees reached in the bottom of the first inning, Hicks on a walk and Aaron Judge a single after just missing an opposite-field home run. Andrew McCutchen grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, but Gregorius drove a 90 mph slider into the right field seats with the count full.
The Orioles have been outscored 118-69 in the first inning.
Ramírez threw 29 pitches in the first inning and 19 more in the second. The deficit grew to six runs in the fourth after Neil Walker doubled with one out on a ball that popped out of Jones’ glove as he turned his wrist.
Walker scored on Gleyber Torres’ single, and a stolen base, Wynns’ passed ball and Austin Romine’s ground ball increased the lead to 4-0. Brett Gardner walked and Hicks jumped on a 92 mph fastball to give the Yankees a franchise-record-tying five players with at least 25 home runs.
After the Orioles got the lead down to 6-4, Cody Carroll let an inherited runner score in the seventh, and two of his own on Andrew McCutchen’s RBI single and Luke Voit’s two-run single.
Tim Beckham walked with one out in the eighth and Núñez went to the opposite field for his sixth home run. Cedric Mullins reached on an infield hit, Robertson entered the game and Stewart lined his second major league home run into the right field seats.
The Orioles kept pounding away, but they couldn’t defend themselves.
Chris Davis struck out four times and is 1-for-32 with 17 strikeouts in his last nine games.
Showalter on team’s comebacks: “We talked about it before the game that there’s a lot of teams depending on us. I didn’t have to tell them that. They knew that. Everybody was shaking their head in there. We’re going to make it as hard as we can on them. A lot of good things offensively, but the walks hurt us.
“The rundown we didn’t execute cost us a run or two. We probably should have gotten a double play out of that. A couple of defensive plays that don’t show up in the error column we didn’t execute. But offensively, Villar continues to kind of really put a lot of pressure on other teams. It’s good to see DJ turn on, I believe it was a cutter. A lot of good things. Núñez blocked a ball the other way like he should, and Austin. A lot of young players did some good things. But it’s just the pitching.
“We’re just not quite, I don’t know if you want to say ‘mature enough.’ We do some good things but we can’t put together a lot of sequences. You saw how good Yefry pitched last time out. Just never really got a feel. He had a little cut on his thumb, showed up. I think it probably bothered him a little bit, but they seemed to get it under control and manage it. But we’ll see how that is next time. We seem to be getting a lot of that.”
Showalter on Stewart: “The one thing that I and we and the organization always liked, he’s a baseball player. He likes to play, very much like Jonathan. You don’t need a full house and you don’t need the big leagues. Minor leagues, college, high school, he likes to play, he likes to compete and he’s always on. He doesn’t have an off button, and those type of people have a chance to be as good as they’re capable of being. And he’s respectful of it.
“You can tell he really enjoys being here, but he’s not in awe of it. He’s got some confidence in his ability. It’s been fun to watch.”
Showalter on whether it’s time to bench Davis: “We’ve tried that. We’ve tried giving him some time here and there. It’s something we consider from day to day. We’ll consider what’s the best foot forward tomorrow.”
Showalter on whether these are same struggles for Davis: “Chris will have a couple of good games where you keep thinking that he’s going to get it going. He just can’t string it together consistently. It’s been a challenge for him most of the season.”
Ramírez (via interpreter Ramón Alarcón) on cut: “Right now, it’s really not bothering me that much, but in that very last inning, that’s when I felt it and it really bothered me for that inning.”
Ramírez on whether he’s tiring: “No, not really. I don’t feel tired. I work every day between starts and try to prepare myself the best I can for my next start. I was missing the strike zone tonight.”
Wynns on Ramírez: “Just trying to execute pitches and just trying to be on the same page, and we gave up those runs, those homers. Just can’t let that happen. It was my fault. I put those down and we just didn’t execute.”
Wynns on two passed balls and home run: “It was unacceptable with those passed balls. We had a little hiccup with the signs, and I missed that other one. Yeah, can’t happen. Just, bottom line with our pitching, we just have to get ahead early and just put them away. Right now we’re nitpicking and we just put ourselves in situations where we don’t execute.
“That’s the one big word right there, ‘execute.’ We need to get better at that. This game’s on me. This game’s on me.”
Wynns on offense fighting back: “It was awesome. We battled. We showed that we had some fight. That’s good we didn’t just turn over and play dead. But it was good. It showed that we have some room to get better, which we will, and keep moving forward. Nights like this, don’t let this dwell, move forward and keep getting better.”