The New York Yankees appeared to be making a push toward the top of the AL East, riding some outstanding pitching to eight straight wins after the All-Star break.
Suddenly, however, they’re having trouble getting anyone out.
New York (58-48) reeled off eight wins in a row to start the second half, giving up 15 combined runs. But the Yankees gave up 15 hits to Boston on Sunday in a 9-2 loss, then opened their series with the Orioles (51-55) in the Bronx by getting blown out 13-4 on Monday.
They fell behind 6-1 on Tuesday night before making a furious rally in the eighth and ninth innings, but despite giving up three runs in the ninth, Baltimore closer George Sherrill struck out Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Wilson Betemit to preserve his team’s 7-6 win.
Baltimore is 7-4 against New York after not having won a season series against the Yankees since taking eight of 12 in 1997 - the last time the Orioles made the playoffs.
“I guess we play a little bit better with playoff-contending teams,” said Aubrey Huff, who homered for the second straight game. “It seems like we step it up a little bit more and get a little bit more focused.”
New York hasn’t been swept by the Orioles in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium since June 1986, and Baltimore will have to go through Chamberlain (3-3, 2.30 ERA) to do so on Wednesday. The right-hander was a phenom in the Yankees bullpen late last season and early in 2008 before transitioning to a starting role, and he’s begun to look like a star in the rotation as well.
Chamberlain is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts since the All-Star break, striking out 17 in 13 innings. He shut out the Red Sox on three hits over seven innings on Friday in New York’s 1-0 victory.
“He was outstanding,” manager Joe Girardi told the Yankees’ official Web site. “He seems to get stronger as the game goes on.”
Chamberlain has no record in six career relief appearances against Baltimore, giving up one run in six innings while striking out 11. The Orioles are hitting .182 against him.
Baltimore remains in last place in the East, but has followed a five-game losing streak with three straight wins. Kevin Millar has continued to shine against the Yankees in the first two games of this series, going a combined 5-for-10 and hitting a home in each game.
Millar is hitting .362 (17-for-47) with six homers against New York this season.
He isn’t the hottest player in his own lineup, though. Huff has also homered in both games in the Bronx, and is hitting .500 (17-for-34) with 10 RBIs over his last eight games. Huff is hitting .359 (14-for-39) with three homers and 14 RBIs against the Yankees.
The Orioles will rely on Dennis Sarfate (4-1, 3.78) as they go for their first three-game road sweep since visiting Kansas City from May 28-30, 2007. Sarfate has appeared in 60 career games as a reliever - including 45 in Baltimore’s bullpen this season - but this will be his first major league start.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to take it and run with, but I’ve got to take the same approach and hopefully give the guys a solid five or six innings in the first one,” Sarfate told the Orioles’ official Web site.
The Queens native has struggled in July, posting a 5.93 ERA, but he’s fared well this season against New York, striking out six in four scoreless innings.