BALTIMORE — The Yankees flirted with disaster Wednesday night against the Orioles, only to be bailed out by Brett Gardner’s clutch two-out, two-run single in the ninth.
They were not as fortunate Thursday, taking a brutal 3-2 loss to the Orioles in 10 innings on a rainy night at Camden Yards.
It was a damaging defeat for the Yankees (82-65), who had a chance to put at least a tiny bit of distance between themselves and the Blue Jays (82-64) and Red Sox (83-65) in the American League wild-card chase but now trail both by a half-game.
"They all sting and we’ve had a lot that have stung during the course of the year, and this one certainly falls into that category," a disconsolate Aaron Boone said.
The Yankees, who went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10, took a 2-0 lead in the second on Joey Gallo's 35th homer and an RBI double by Gio Urshela, but they did not score again. After Urshela's double, the Yankees had second and third with one out, but Gardner popped up and Giancarlo Stanton grounded out. In the fifth, Gallo's bid for a grand slam was caught a few feet short of the centerfield wall.
"We weren’t able to add on and you’ve got to be able to do that," said Boone, whose team finished the season 11-8 against the 47-99 Orioles (the AL East-leading Rays went 18-1 against Baltimore). "We let them hang around and they were able to get us."
The Orioles were down to their last strike in the ninth, but Clay Holmes' second wild pitch of the inning allowed the tying run to score. After the Yankees were retired in order in the 10th, the Orioles won it in the bottom half against Wandy Peralta. With the bases loaded, one out and the infield in, Austin Hays chopped a single over Urshela's head into leftfield.
After a brilliant outing from Jordan Montgomery, who struck out a career-high 12 in 5 2/3 innings, the Yankees took a 2-1 lead into the ninth.
Holmes, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and came back for the ninth with Aroldis Chapman unavailable after working the previous three games, struck out Ramon Urias but allowed a single by DJ Stewart as the rain, a part of much of the night, continued. With righthanded-hitting Pat Valaika up, an up-and-in fastball popped out of Gary Sanchez's mitt and trickled behind him, allowing pinch runner Kelvin Gutierrez to reach second (Sanchez thought he had caught the ball and was not quick to retrieve it). Gutierrez advanced to third on Valaika’s groundout to third.
With .189-hitting Austin Wynns at the plate and the count 2-and-2, Holmes threw a 98-mph fastball high and wide of the plate that Sanchez was unable to backhand, getting the smallest piece of it. The ball ricocheted off the brick backstop and came back to Sanchez quickly, but Holmes was a bit late covering the plate and Gutierrez scored the tying run. On the next pitch, Wynns struck out for the fourth time.
"A little messy, but it was the same game for everybody," Holmes said of the wet baseball perhaps having an impact on the two wild pitches. "You have to adjust and make pitches when you have to in those elements."
The ugly loss to a degree overshadowed a terrific outing by Montgomery, who had next to nothing his previous time out, Friday night against the Mets, when he failed to get out of the fourth inning of a blowout loss. The lefthander experienced almost the complete opposite Thursday night. With his entire arsenal clicking, a dominant Montgomery allowed one run, six hits and a walk in 5 2⁄3 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.63. Ryan Mountcastle led off the sixth with his 29th home run, cutting the Orioles’ deficit to 2-1.
With Nestor Cortes Jr. striking out 11 Tuesday night, Montgomery’s performance gave the Yankees back-to-back starters recording at least 10 strikeouts for the first time since Aug. 27-28, 2009, when A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia accomplished the feat, according to YES.
"It sucks," Montgomery said of the loss. "But we don’t really have time to dwell on it."
The unsteady Yankees bullpen appeared as if it would get the job done from there, with the unusual combination of Albert Abreu, Joely Rodriguez and Holmes taking the Yankees within a strike of completing a three-game sweep.
"It’s a roller coaster," Gallo said. "Obviously, one strike away, there’s excitement to win that game, get on a flight and be happy about a sweep. But baseball reminds you that you have to finish the game. That’s how it goes."