NEW YORK – As smoothly as this early season has started for the Orioles, they know they’ll never be considered serious threats in the American League East if they can’t beat the New York Yankees.
On Monday, in their first trip to new Yankee Stadium this season, the red-hot Orioles once again received an outstanding pitching performance from Jason Hammel, but couldn’t score for him in a 2-1 defeat – their third loss by two runs or fewer to the Bronx Bombers this season.
“It's not like we're going out there and getting blown out. They're one-run losses, and we see these guys a lot more,” said Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis. “We've got to hang with them.”
Heading into the night, the Orioles (14-9) were winners of six of their last seven. But they are winless in four games this year versus the Yankees and are 14-5 against everyone else. Last year, the Yankees took 13 of 18 from the Orioles and have won 30 of 40 since 2010.
“They are the Yankees, they are always good. I don’t think it’s anything that we have a mental block or anything like that against them,” said first baseman Chris Davis, whose second-inning sacrifice fly accounted for the Orioles’ lone run. “We’ve played good. We just haven’t capitalized on the opportunities to score runs. You are not going to beat a lot of teams scoring one run, even with as well as we’ve been pitching.”
Hammel made just one mistake – a 94-mph sinker that didn’t sink and was instead pummeled by Eric Chavez in the second inning. The two-run homer, Chavez’s third home run of the season, nearly cleared the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center.
“Started down the middle and didn’t move too much,” said Hammel (3-1), who picked up his first loss as an Oriole. “It was right down the middle, so he hit a home run off of it.”
The homer was set up by a Mark Teixeira leadoff single down the right-field line. The Orioles felt the ball went foul before crossing first base – and Orioles manager Buck Showalter argued the call.
“Like most times in a ballgame like that, you can look back and see some things you could do to make it not matter,” Showalter said. “(The umpires) are not trying to get it wrong, but sometimes there are things you have to overcome.”
Davis said he thought the ball was foul – but it shouldn’t have mattered.
“You’ve got to move on. That’s the game. You can’t let that stuff affect you. It happens every day. No matter who you play for or who you’re playing against,” Davis said. “You’ve just got to pick it up and keep going. Jason still pitched well. We’ve got to do a little better job of capitalizing on scoring opportunities, myself included.”
Entering the game with a 1.73 ERA – third best in the American League among qualifiers – Hammel continued his exceptional April, which ends with a 1.97 ERA. On Monday, he lasted six innings, allowing five hits, two walks and two earned runs while striking out five, his fourth quality start in five outings. He has yet to give up more than two earned runs or more than six hits as an Oriole.
“He's just got a good mix and he trusts his fastball and sinker,” Showalter said of Hammel, whom the Orioles acquired in February as part of the Jeremy Guthrie trade with Colorado. “He was the reason we had a chance to win that ballgame. He's been solid.”
The Orioles had won 57 consecutive games when their opponents had scored two runs or fewer. They also were 12-1 when their starter had gone at last six innings before Monday’s loss.
But they couldn’t do much damage against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (2-3), who entered the night with a 4.38 ERA.
Kuroda, the 37-year-old Japanese right-hander whom the Yankees signed as a free agent this offseason, gave up just four hits, one walk and one run in seven innings. Several times the Orioles smoked the ball against Kuroda, but it ended up in Yankees’ gloves.
“We squared up I think eight balls, but you've got to applaud their defense, too. They caught them. Some nights it happens like that,” said Showalter, who is stuck on 999 career victories. “We won a ballgame (Sunday) because of the defense. It's just unfortunate that you can't get a return for that type of pitching effort.”
The Orioles best chance to beat Kuroda was in the seventh, when they failed to score despite getting runners on second and third with one out. Kuroda struck out Davis – who was nearly safe when the ball squirted away from catcher Russell Martin, but Teixeira corralled Martin’s wild throw to first.
“We had a chance to put (Kuroda) away and give ourselves the lead and we weren’t able to do it,” Davis said. “I swung at some balls out of the zone. I’ve got to be a little bit more patient there.”
With Wilson Betemit at the plate and two outs in the inning, Kuroda uncorked a wild pitch. The ball bounced off Martin’s chest and beyond the dirt encircling home plate. Martin got to it quickly and flipped the ball to Kuroda, who tagged out a diving Markakis for the final out.
“I was just looking to score -- tie the game. I thought I had a good jump,” Markakis said. “The ball didn't go as far as I wanted to. Nine times out of 10, I'm going to try it.”
Yankees’ relievers took over from there. David Robertson struck out the side in the eighth and Mariano Rivera (fifth save) held the Orioles scoreless to preserve Kuroda’s win. Rivera got Nolan Reimold to ground out to lead off the ninth – snapping Reimold’s 14-game hitting streak.
The loss also dropped the Orioles out of first place, with them falling one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Seattle Mariners in 12 innings.
The Orioles held their own against the Yankees (14-9, and a half game behind the Orioles), but it ended as most here have in the last decade-plus. The Orioles haven’t posted a winning record in New York – or against the Yankees in a season – since 1997.
“It’s tough, but I’m proud of the guys,” Hammel said. “We are playing these guys toe-to-toe. It’s something we can pull out of it. You can’t win every game by one run. I’m very confident we can continue this (roll) going and obviously we can’t really get down on ourselves for playing good baseball.”
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