Baltimore has walked a fine line all year in its surprising run to a share of the AL East lead.
Without right fielder Nick Markakis, that margin of error got reduced further for the Orioles heading into Sunday's finale of their four-game set against the division co-leading New York Yankees.
Manager Buck Showalter's team will finish with no worse than a split of its final series with New York (78-61), and Baltimore (78-61) again has a chance to wrest away the East lead following Saturday's tense 5-4 victory that improved its record to 25-7 in one-run games.
Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford and J.J. Hardy all homered for the Orioles, who withstood a ninth-inning rally thanks to an incorrect call by first base umpire Jerry Meals as he called Mark Teixeira out on a close call that resulted in a game-ending double play.
Television replays showed Teixeira beat the throw with his head-first slide, and the correct call would have resulted in pinch-runner Chris Dickerson scoring the tying run.
"It was not a bang-bang play. He was safe. He was clearly safe,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You hate to lose a game that way, but he missed it.''
The play was costly for Sunday's game, too, as Teixeira aggravated a strained calf and is not expected to play.
Baltimore's price for the victory, though, was much steeper. Markakis, batting .333 in the leadoff spot, will miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a broken left thumb from being hit by a CC Sabathia pitch.
"It breaks my heart personally, and for him," manager Buck Showalter said. "I know how much this time of the season means to him. We'll go forward from there.''
Against the Yankees, that may mean more of the long ball from Baltimore, which has already hit 12 home runs in this series and could continue the trend versus scheduled New York starter Freddy Garcia (7-6, 5.09 ERA). The veteran right-hander struggled to keep the ball in the park in his last outing, an ominous sign considering Baltimore's hitter-friendly park.
Garcia lost to Tampa Bay on Tuesday after giving up five runs - four scoring on three home runs - and five hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 5-2 loss.
"That's my fault," Garcia told the Yankees' official website. "I gave up five runs; we lost, 5-2. Like I say, I don't make the pitch when I need it, and that's why I got hurt."
Garcia's 16 homers allowed in 99 innings match his total from 2011, when he logged 146 2-3 innings. He is 0-1 in four appearances - two starts - versus the Orioles this year, allowing three runs in six innings of a 5-4 defeat in a July 30 start.
Reynolds, who has two home runs lifetime off Garcia, has seven in his last six games against New York after failing to hit any in his first eight. Hardy also has a pair of homers versus Garcia, and Adam Jones is 6 for 15 with three doubles.
Zach Britton (5-1, 4.15) has been a surprise contributor to Baltimore's playoff run, winning four straight starts with a 0.94 ERA. His best outing in that stretch came Tuesday at Toronto, where he scattered four hits and two walks while striking out eight in seven innings of a 12-0 win after being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk.
"He's really in a good place right now,'' Showalter said. "He was pretty relentless (Tuesday), he kept pounding the zone.''
It was the Yankees, however, who were relentless in pounding Britton for seven runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 12-3 victory Aug. 1, the lefty's only loss this year. He is 1-2 with a 6.95 ERA in five career starts versus New York.