Upstart Orioles slice Yankees' lead to two games

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Before his team raised even more eyebrows with another win Friday night, Buck Showalter's voice remained even keel, but his words were defiant.

He was looking up, not down, he insisted, set on chasing the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East rather than checking who was behind his Baltimore Orioles in the wild-card standings.

After the surprising young Orioles cut the Yankees' lead to two games with their 6-1 win behind Mark Reynolds' two homers and starter Miguel Gonzalez's gem, the Orioles matched their manager's demeanor.

A team expected to do little this year, and whose franchise has not been in a playoff race in 15 years, reacted to its victory over the star-laden Yankees as "ho-hum," as Reynolds said of his own performance.

"It all starts with Buck," the first baseman said after Baltimore continued methodically cutting into a deficit that stood at 10 games on July 18. "I mean, he tells us every day, 'One day at a time.' That's what we're doing. We're not ... I mean, I'd be lying if I said I didn't look at the standings, but we're really focused on just winning tomorrow. We're not thinking if we sweep, we're tied.

"It is easy," Reynolds said, when asked if that were easier said than done amid a pennant race, "because the only ones that thought we'd be where we are were in this clubhouse. We knew what our abilities and talents were, so we're playing with house money."

The Yankees, conversely, have plenty of their own money to play with, but they are expected to put it to better use than they have lately. Losing for the ninth time in the last 14 games had Yankees manager Joe Girardi expressing sentiments he's had to share too frequently lately.

"We got swept in Chicago, I said we need to play better," Girardi said. "You lose two out of three to Toronto, and I think we need to play better. As I said, there's gonna be their low points, and there's gonna be their high points during the season, and we just gotta find a way to get out of this little rut we're in."

Asked if he felt the need to tell his team not to panic, Girardi said he did not. Asked if he might feel the need at some point, he said, "If I did, you think I would tell ya?"

The Orioles seemed the safer bet to panic as they entered Yankee Stadium with Gonzalez, a rookie starter who politely apologized following his postgame interview in the Bronx last month, making a soft-spoken promise he would offer better quotes next time.

But Showalter insisted before the game his players would not be fazed. Gonzalez (6-3) proved him right, throwing seven innings of shutout ball, allowing just four hits and striking out nine for his second win in a row in the Bronx.

"(I told them,) 'Hey, have fun, let's go,' and they will," Showalter said before the game. "They don't take themselves too seriously."

The Orioles offense quickly lightened Gonzalez's load, despite the daunting task of facing Hiroki Kuroda (12-10). The Yankees starter hadn't given up more than three runs since July 13, but the Orioles equaled that number on Reynolds' three-run homer to left in the second inning for a 3-0 lead.

Kuroda allowed only one more run in 8 1/3 innings, on J.J. Hardy's 18th homer of the season, in the sixth. That was good enough to give Kuroda his first consecutive losses since mid-May.

"He made a couple mistakes," Girardi said, "and they made him pay."

Gonzalez, who hadn't pitched in 11 days, shrugged off any rust or excuses, saying he was ready to do whatever the team needed. He kept the Yankees off-balance by changing speeds and featuring what Girardi said was a "deceptive" fastball.

He also quickly got ahead of the Yankees' hitters, infamous for wearing out pitchers by taking pitches. But they had little chance to do so against Gonzalez, who didn't reach a three-ball count until the sixth.

In the sixth, Gonzalez again refused to wilt in the type of situation many pitchers had this season against the suddenly frigid Yankees.

A single and a walk had put runners on first and second with no ones for Derek Jeter, who battled through a nine-pitch at-bat, the crowd sensing a familiar scenario about to unfold. Instead, Gonzalez got Jeter to rap into a fielder's choice.

Gonzalez then continued to make life miserable for Nick Swisher, who fell victim to a diving curveball for his third strikeout in as many at-bats. Swisher would finish 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, and has just one hit in his last 16 at-bats.

Robinson Cano popped out to third, and the threat was over.

Darren O'Day pitched a perfect eighth, and Brian Matusz gave up Curtis Granderson's home run in the ninth to close it out.

"We know what's going on, and we don't have to look at the scoreboard because we're playing the team that we're going to be looking at," Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez said. "We're probably going to be doing that for the next couple of weeks. We need to clean up what we're doing in here."

NOTES: Alex Rodriguez (fractured left hand) went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run while serving as the designated hitter in his first rehab appearance for Class A Tampa. ... Andy Pettitte (fractured left ankle) threw off a mound for the first time since getting injured, saying the 20-pitch bullpen session was not a full-blown one, but "was huge." He'll be evaluated by the training staff before the next step is decided. ... Right-handers David Phelps and Phil Hughes were moved up in the rotation to face the Orioles. Freddy Garcia was bumped back to Tuesday to face the Tampa Bay Rays. Girardi said he liked the way Phelps and Hughes have been throwing, so he decided to push them forward. ... Mark Teixeira (strained left calf) feels better, Girardi said. But the manager said he didn't expect the first baseman back until at least next weekend. ... Left-hander Randy Wolf was signed by the Orioles, who will use the long-time starter in the bullpen. Wolf (3-10, 5.69 ERA for Milwaukee this season) has started 366 of his 371 career games. ... The Orioles will activate three September call-ups Saturday: catcher Luis Exposito, utility man Steve Tolleson and outfielder Xavier Avery.
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