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.
|July 28, 2012||Jim Thome||15-Day DL||Herniated disc|
|July 16, 2012||Robert Andino||15-Day DL||Left shoulder subluxation|
|July 16, 2012||Robert Andino||15-Day DL||Left shoulder subluxation|
|July 14, 2012||Jason Hammel||15-Day DL||Arthroscopic surgery, right knee|
|July 02, 2012||Brian Roberts||15-Day DL||Torn muscle, right hip|
|June 28, 2012||Nick Johnson||60-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|New York Yankees|
|July 25, 2012||Alex Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Non-displaced fracture in left hand|
|July 25, 2012||Nick Swisher||Day-to-Day||Strained left hip flexor|
|July 24, 2012||Alex Rodriguez||Day-to-Day||Left hand fracture|
|June 28, 2012||Andy Pettitte||60-Day DL||Fractured left ankle - out 6-8 weeks|
|June 27, 2012||Andy Pettitte||Day-to-Day||Fractured left ankle - out 6-8 weeks|
|June 25, 2012||CC Sabathia||15-Day DL||Left groin strain|
NEW YORK (AP) -- The bullpen door swung open, and Joba Chamberlain stopped to take in the scene. For the first time in 14 months, he was headed back to a major league mound.
"Your heart gets racing again, just to know that door's opening, your name is called and you're going to pitch," he said. "It was something that I will remember for the rest of my life."'
Chamberlain returned from elbow and ankle injuries that had sidelined him since June 5 last season and the Yankees revived a bit, too, routing the Baltimore Orioles 12-3 to stop a four-game losing streak that tied their season high.
With Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on hand and sitting with the Bleacher Creatures at the start, Robinson Cano hit a grand slam in a seven-run third inning, Derek Jeter had three hits and three RBIs on a rainy afternoon and Phil Hughes (11-8) pitched homerless ball for only the fifth time this year.
A night after wasting a five-run, first-inning lead in an 11-5 defeat, New York gave Zach Britton another shellacking at Yankee Stadium, won for just the fourth time in 13 games and restored a 6 1/2-game lead in the AL East rather than have Baltimore creep within 4 1/2.
"I want it to be 20 games," Nick Swisher said.
Chamberlain, the excitable pitcher who has alternated energizing and puzzling Yankees fans since his debut in 2007, had pitched eight scoreless outings before going on the disabled list with a sore elbow last June. The following day, an MRI revealed a torn ligament.
He appeared to be a month or two from returning before he dislocated his right ankle during spring training while playing with his son at a local spot that had a trampoline. Some fretted he might not return this year. Chamberlain said he never doubted or got down, inspired by his dad, Harlan Chamberlain - in a wheelchair since childhood due to polio.
"He never complained why, and he was never going to be out of his wheelchair. He was never going to miraculously be able to walk again. And I knew I was going to be able to walk again," Joba said. "It was a great example for me growing up to be able to get through this."
Chamberlain entered to a big ovation and started J.J. Hardy with a called strike, then gave up a home run on an 85 mph slider that went just over the glove of leaping left fielder Ichiro Suzuki , hit the top of the wall and bounced into the seats. Chamberlain threw 28 pitches, allowing two runs, a walk, four hits in 1 2-3 innings, including an RBI double to Endy Chavez in the eighth. His fastball reached 93 mph - four mph less than during his minor league rehab outings - and he relied on off-speed pitches.
"I was curious to see how he would do today because I'm sure there's a lot of emotions," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He threw strikes. I'm happy with that. I didn't think he tried to overthrow today."
With Mariano Rivera out for the season following knee surgery, Chamberlain could wind up as the Yankees seventh-inning pitcher behind setup man David Robertson and closer Rafael Soriano .
"He's almost like a trade acquisition," Hughes said.
Swisher never doubted that Chamberlain would make it back to the major leagues this season.
"You seen the size of that dude? That guy's a beast," he said. "Big guys like that really heal up well. He had a bad injury, man. Can't blame him for that, man. I got a kid. I take him to the trampoline thing."
Hughes allowed nine hits but just one run in six innings.
"I didn't pitch well at all," he said. "Didn't have good stuff. Didn't have good location. Was just trying to bear down and get some outs when I really needed them."
In his first outing at Yankee Stadium, Britton (1-1) retired just one batter during a 12-run first inning in a 17-3 loss last July 30. He got a no-decision in September and allowed seven runs over 2 2-3 innings in this one, leaving him with a 19.13 ERA in the Bronx.
"We're in the hunt, and I understand what I have to do to be at this level," he said. "I'm not getting it done right now. So I got to either do something or somebody else is going to come up and find a way to do the job."
NOTES: Suzuki, acquired from Seattle on July 23, played left field for only the second time in his big league career - the other was in Game 5 of the 2001 AL championship series at old Yankee Stadium. He made a leaping catch of Mark Reynolds ' drive near the top of the wall in the sixth. ... Casey McGehee made his Yankees debut, a day after he was obtained from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. His beard shaved off to comply with team rules, McGehee started at first base and went 0 for 2 with two walks, two runs and an eighth-inning sacrifice fly. ... Sotomayor, a Bronx native, joined the Bleacher Creatures for their first-inning Roll Call. Curtis Granderson hit his 29th homer in the first. ... Cano had been in a 1-for-17 slide entering the series finale. His slam was his second this season and ninth overall. ... Alex Rodriguez , his broken left hand bandaged, played with his kids on the field after the game on family day. ... The Yankees were 7 for 13 with runners in scoring position, Baltimore 0 for 15.