Orioles stun Yanks with 7-run 7th inning

At the beginning of the same week that the National Football League will begin its schedule, the Yankees fumbled their chance to blow past the Orioles in the wild-card race. They caught one break this weekend with fellow contenders Tampa Bay and Oakland playing each other in the Bay Area so they would gain ground on one of them daily and were on the brink of sweeping Baltimore and putting the O’s in the Yanks’ rear-view mirror.

That was before the Birds changed their luck by rolling seven in the seventh inning that ruined yet another strong starting effort by Andy Pettitte (3-0, 1.20 ERA in past five starts) and jostled the Yankees back into fourth place in the American League East and kept them at least 3 ½ games back in the wild-card hunt with another calendar date torn off.

The 3-0 lead that Pettitte took into the seventh appeared pretty safe with the Orioles offering little resistance until newly-acquired Michael Morse and Danny Valencia opened the inning with singles. Yanks manager Joe Girardi turned to a well-rested bullpen but found no relief.

Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan each faced two batters without retiring either. Kelley did the most damage by giving up an RBI single to Matt Wieters and a three-run, opposite-field home run to J.J. Hardy on a ball that hit the top of the wall just beyond the reach of Curtis Granderson in right field. Logan yielded a bunt single to Brian Roberts and a walk to Nick Markakis before Joba Chamberlain got clobbered one out later by Adam Jones with the second three-run homer of the inning, this one onto the netting above Monument Park that created the 7-3 final score.

It marked the first time in 33 home games this season that the Yankees lost when they had a lead of at least two runs.

“They have been so good for us all for so long, it was surprising to see,” Girardi said of the pen.

Despite the pitching changes, all of this seemed to happen in a mini-second. What would have been Pettitte’s 256th victory went flying out the window and offset the decision to have him start instead of Phil Hughes, who is scheduled to get the ball Monday in the Labor Day afternoon tilt against the White Sox, a last-place team but one that swept the Yankees Aug. 5-7 at Chicago.

In games like this, you look back at missed chances for the Yankees to put up more runs. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 base runners. Cano, who usually rakes against Baltimore (.340, 27 HR, 99 RBI) was 0-for-5 and struck out three times in a game against the O’s for the first time in his career.

Derek Jeter had a sacrifice fly but was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. The RBI was career No. 1,258, which pushed him past former teammate Bernie Williams into sixth place on the all-time franchise list. The Yanks’ 2-through-6 hitters in the Yankees’ lineup were a combined 1-for-19 (Alfonso Soriano’s RBI single in the third inning giving him 36 RBI in 34 games for the Yanks) with 10 strikeouts.

The Yankees were able to contain Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis in the series. The major-league home run leader had 1-for-10 with a walk, a hit by pitch, an RBI and 10 strikeouts. He was the only Orioles player who did not reach base Sunday as he made five outs.

It was Baltimore’s relief corps that held sway. After a shaky start by starter Wei-Yin Chen (three earned runs, four hits, five walks in four innings), four Orioles relievers teamed up to pitch five scoreless innings allowing three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. The Orioles lead the season series, 8-7, with four games remaining against the teams Sept. 9-12 at Camden Yards.

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