A lengthy fifth inning by the Yankees offense is what ended his day.
Hernandez struck out nine to remain undefeated this season, and Alex Rodriguez homered while New York batted around in a four-run fifth to lead the Yankees over the Orioles 9-7 Sunday.
“It was a high-wire act for sure. He pitched carefully,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “We were going to send him back out for the sixth but it was a long inning.”
After spending all last year on the disabled list, Hernandez has 33 strikeouts in 24 innings over five starts.
But he left his start Tuesday at Toronto with a tight left hamstring and had thrown 104 pitches Sunday, and Torre didn’t want to risk sending him out for the sixth.
“When you’re working you don’t think about time, you just think about outs,” Hernandez said of the game, which lasted 3 hours, 47 minutes. “I just need to strengthen my arm a little more and get to 120-125 pitches like I used to.”
Hideki Matsui hit a two-run double and Tony Clark a two-run homer in a five-run fourth inning against Rodrigo Lopez as the Yankees greeted new teammate Esteban Loaiza with their 11th win in 13 games over Baltimore this season despite being outhit 14-9. New York took three of four in the weekend series.
With the win, and Boston’s 4-3 loss to Minnesota, the Yankees took a 9 1/2 -game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, matching their biggest margin of the season.
Rivera passed Roberto Hernandez for ninth place on the career list with his 321st save.
New York struggled against Lopez for the first three innings, striking out five times and getting just one hit—Derek Jeter’s single in the first.
It was a different story in the fourth, when the Yankees’ hitters were facing Lopez for the second time.
“When I got to the point where I had to throw off-speed pitches, I didn’t have that,” Lopez said. “For the first nine guys I was fine, then they were ready for something hard.”
Jeter led off with a single and Gary Sheffield walked. After Rodriguez struck out, Jorge Posada walked and Matsui followed with his tying double down the left-field line that seemed to awaken the crowd of 51,632.
Bernie Williams added an RBI groundout and Clark capped the inning with a towering drive almost halfway into the upper deck in right to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead.
“(The pitch to Clark) was a lazy breaking ball and he took advantage of that,” Lopez said.
Lofton led off the fifth with his third home run, Rodriguez hit a two-run shot—his 28th homer—and Clark had a sacrifice fly two batters after reliever John Parrish botched a bouncer just off the mound for an error to prolong the inning. The Yankees batted around for the 19th time this season.
Rodriguez has homered in three straight games and is tied for the league lead with Boston’s Manny Ramirez.
“A-Rod coming through for us, that’s big for us,” Torre said. “It’s going to make it difficult for opponents to get through the middle of our lineup.”
Lopez (8-7) gave up seven hits and eight runs in 4 1-3 innings. He struck out seven and walked two.
The Yankees loaded the bases in the seventh on a single and two walks, but B.J. Ryan struck out the side to end the threat.
The Orioles stranded 11. … The Yankees matched last year’s total of 41 come-from-behind victories with the win, in just 104 games. … Orioles OF Jay Gibbons, out since June 29 with a strained left hip flexor, will begin a rehab assignment at Class A Frederick on Monday. He will spend three days there then go to Double-A Bowie. … A video tribute to Thurman Munson, shown before the eighth inning, received a warm ovation. On Monday, it will be 25 years since Munson died in a plane crash.