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Sonny Gray has off day as Yankees’ pitching shuffle backfires

Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray reacts after giving

Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray reacts after giving up a three-run home run to  Orioles shortstop Tim Beckham at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 17, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

This was not the way the Yankees thought the cards would fall when they shuffled their rotation. They had not imagined that Sonny Gray would be knocked down a peg when he was moved up a day to pitch Sunday. Nor had they envisioned that the most effective pitching in the game would be done by the Orioles.

In the biggest reversal of all, the Yankees fell short, 6-4, against a team they had pummeled for three days. Ultimately, they lost a day on the schedule and a chance to gain ground on the Red Sox, who lost at Tampa Bay. They remain three games back, with Jaime Garcia and CC Sabathia scheduled to start Monday night and Tuesday night against the fellow wild card-contending Twins.

There is no telling if Sabathia would have kept the Yankees rolling had he started Sunday, as he had been scheduled to do. The team announced Saturday night that Gray would pitch Sunday and that Sabathia would be pushed back two days so he would not be on turn to work this weekend in Toronto, where the artificial turf is tough on his legs.

Maybe that shuffle will help in the long run. In the short term, it led to Gray’s shortest (four innings) and poorest outing as a Yankee.

“My stuff just wasn’t sharp from the get-go and it kind of caught up to me there in the fourth,” Gray said after allowing five runs and six hits in his 80 pitche, the most damaging of which was smacked into the left-centerfield bleachers by Tim Beckham for a three-run homer that gave Baltimore a 5-1 lead in the fourth. “That was tough to see and tough to go through.”

Since his trade from Oakland, Gray’s greatest problem had been a lack of run support, and he did not get much of that while he was in the game Sunday, either. The Yankees had only one run — Didi Gregorius’ 24th homer — in five innings against Ubaldo Jimenez, who entered the game with a 5-10 record and 6.75 ERA.

“He definitely made his pitches today, kept the ball low and executed with two strikes,” Gary Sanchez said of Jimenez, who struck out 10. His teammates had allowed 30 runs and 34 hits, including nine home runs, the previous three days.

This time it was Gray who had to give the What Went Wrong explanation.

“I don’t think I threw enough strikes, and when I did, I just couldn’t get the ball down much today,” he said after falling to 9-11 (3-6 as a Yankee despite a 3.29 ERA). “I would get two outs and just couldn’t finish the inning.”

All five of the runs off him came with two out.

Sanchez said of his view from behind the plate: “At the beginning of the game, he was sharp. He got in trouble in that [fourth] inning.”

A troubling thread for Gray is that home runs have been costly: six in his past three defeats.

The Yankees tried to bail him out, cutting into a 6-1 deficit on a two-run double by Matt Holliday in the sixth and a sacrifice fly by Starlin Castro in the eighth. They made the ninth inning dramatic and forced Orioles manager Buck Showalter to make an interesting and unconventional decision.

With lefthander Zach Britton on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled with one out and advanced to third on Brett Gardner’s groundout. Showalter opted to intentionally walk Aaron Judge, who had 11 homers and 24 RBIs in 19 games against the Orioles this season. That allowed Sanchez to come to the plate as the potential winning run.

“They’re both really good hitters. You’re picking your poison there,” Showalter said.

“I was ready for the battle,” Sanchez said. “If they were not going to pitch to him, they were going to pitch to me. I was ready for it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it today.”

He struck out swinging, ending the game and the chance to move up in the standings.

“Losing is tough,’’ Gray said. “We played a pretty good series and we could have really capped it off nicely with a win today. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Sonny Gray has had a hard time keeping the ball in the ballpark since the Yankees acquired him from the A’s on July 31. His 2017 numbers:

Team Innings HRs

Oakland 97 8

Yankees 54 2⁄3 8

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