Orioles-Yankees Preview

The Associated Press

The AL East race appeared to be all but over when the New York Yankees opened a 10-game cushion two weeks ago.

Some poor play and a few injuries later, the division seems far from decided.

Looking to record their first three-game sweep in the Bronx in more than 26 years, the Baltimore Orioles can also shave another game off the Yankees' East lead Wednesday afternoon.

A third division title in four seasons seemed a foregone conclusion July 18, after New York extended its lead to 10 following a ninth win in 11 games. That now seems premature with the Yankees (60-43) having lost four straight and nine of 12 while dealing with injuries to Alex Rodriguez (broken hand) and team RBI leader Mark Teixeira (wrist).

The skid continued in unlikely fashion Tuesday night.

New York scored five times in the first inning but Baltimore (55-49) answered with seven runs of its own in the second - capped by Chris Davis' go-ahead grand slam - en route to an 11-5 victory. Nick Markakis had his second straight three-hit game - including a homer - and Wilson Betemit has gone 5 for 8 with three RBIs in this series to help the Orioles get within 5 1/2 games of the Yankees.

"It felt like the first inning would never end,'' Davis said. "And then we were able to come out there and take back the momentum and really quiet the crowd.''

Baltimore is a win away from its first three-game sweep at New York since June 6-8, 1986. A victory would also give the Orioles five wins in the Bronx in a season for the first time since 1997.

After totaling three runs in a three-game stretch, Baltimore has averaged 6.3 in its last six contests. Markakis is batting .364 (28 for 77) since the All-Star break while Davis is 9 for 26 with three homers and 10 RBIs in his last six games.

New York hasn't dropped five in a row since a six-game skid May 11-16, 2011.

"We're not stressing it,'' the Yankees' Nick Swisher said. "We've just got to come out here, we've got to keep continuing to pound and grind and just try to win some ballgames.''

Although Teixeira hopes to return Friday, the Yankees acquired third baseman Casey McGehee from Pittsburgh on Tuesday for reliever Chad Qualls. McGehee, who can also play first, was batting .230 with eight homers and 35 RBIs with the Pirates.

Zach Britton (1-0, 5.74 ERA) will try to pitch the Orioles to the sweep as he makes his fourth start of 2012. The left-hander followed a dismal season debut by pitching four-hit ball over six scoreless innings in a 4-3 victory at Cleveland on July 22.

He was unable to notch a second consecutive strong outing, allowing six runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings against Oakland on Friday, but escaped without a decision in Baltimore's 14-9 loss.

Britton is 0-1 with a 16.88 ERA in two starts in the Bronx, while he's allowed one unearned run over 14 innings in two outings against the Yankees at home.

Phil Hughes (10-8, 4.08) tries to continue his run of solid outings for New York.

The right-hander is 3-2 with a 2.51 ERA in his last six starts while limiting opponents to a .219 average. He gave up three solo homers over seven innings but was almost untouchable otherwise in a 10-3 win over Boston on Friday.

Hughes, whose 25 homers allowed rank among the major league leaders, is 6-1 with a 2.98 ERA in his past eight home starts. Not included in that stretch was a matchup with the Orioles on May 1, when he allowed four runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-1 loss.

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