The Yankees were leading by two runs against the Orioles in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon and had the bases loaded and two outs. Rookie Mike Ford, a lefthanded hitter batting .159, was due up against lefthander Richard Bleier.
Manager Aaron Boone could have gone for the jugular and inserted American League batting leader DJ LeMahieu as a righthanded pinch hitter. Perhaps against a better foe, he would have.
But these are the Orioles, the team the Yankees have dominated in record fashion. So Ford walked up to the plate and lined a first-pitch, two-run single to left to give the Yankees a four-run cushion. Those were two very important runs in an eventual 6-5 victory.
Fans of noncompetitive matchups will be sad to know the Yankees are done with the Orioles after winning 17 of 19 in the season series, including the final 16. The Yankees have won five in a row overall — and they are getting contributions from players such as Ford, a 27-year-old rookie.
“It ended up being a bigger hit than it was at the time,” Ford said. “That’s why we come up here. It’s what we want to do when we get here.”
Boone stuck to his mission of resting LeMahieu, who is batting .337.
“[Ford] had a tough lefty-on-lefty matchup,” Boone said. “With a lead there — wanting to stay away from DJ today — really good to see him get some results. It was a big hit in the game, obviously.”
The competitive portion of the Yankees’ schedule resumes on Thursday when they host the Indians in the opener of a four-game series before a road trip that will take them to Oakland, Dodger Stadium and Seattle.
The final Yankees-Orioles season series numbers are staggering. The Yankees hadn’t beaten an opponent 17 times since they went 17-5 vs. the Kansas City A’s in 1959.
Wednesday’s victory was powered by Gary Sanchez’s three-run home run to Monument Park in the first inning. The Yankees hit 61 homers in the season series, the most ever by a team vs. one opponent, and that’s after hitting only one each in the final two games.
Sanchez hit 10 home runs against Baltimore. Gleyber Torres hit 13. They are the second set of Yankees teammates to hit at least 10 homers against one opponent in a season since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig both went deep 11 times vs. the Red Sox in 1927.
“Couple of great young players that not only have already done a lot in this game, but the future’s very bright,” Boone said, speaking of Sanchez and Torres, not Ruth and Gehrig. “They’re going to do a lot, I think, special things like that. It just so happens they’ve had really good results against the Orioles this year.”
J.A. Happ (10-7) allowed two runs in five innings for the victory.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the first on Jonathan Villar’s RBI single. The Yankees tied it in the bottom half against Dylan Bundy (5-13) on Didi Gregorius’ run-scoring single and went ahead 4-1 on Sanchez’s 26th home run.
Pedro Severino had an RBI single in the third to make it 4-2. The Yankees didn’t have a hit between Sanchez’s first-inning homer and Sanchez’s rally-starting two-out single in the sixth. Ford’s two-run single three batters later gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead.
The Orioles rallied with three in the seventh. Renato Nunez (5-for-5) had a two-run double off Luis Cessa and Villar’s RBI double off Adam Ottavino made it a one-run game.
But no worries. Zack Britton worked around a leadoff walk in a scoreless eighth. Aroldis Chapman allowed a two-out single in the ninth to Nunez, but struck out Villar to end it for his 33rd save and end the Yankees’ time with the Orioles until 2020.
“I think it’s a little fluky, a little crazy,” Boone said of beating one team 17 out of 19 times. But he’ll take it.