BALTIMORE — The New York Yankees can’t deny it anymore. The Baltimore Orioles are good enough to take this pennant race down to the end.
Baltimore smacked six home runs — including three in a wild eighth inning — and pulled away to a 10-6 victory Thursday night that enabled the Orioles to climb back into a first-place tie with New York atop the AL East.
The Orioles have won 10 of 13, including three of four over the Yankees, and now lead the season series 8-7.
Clearly, this isn’t the same Baltimore team coming off 14 straight losing seasons, or the one that went 5-13 against New York in each of the three previous years.
“They are playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez said. “You have to tip your hat to Baltimore.”
Manager Joe Girardi expressed a similar sentiment. Asked what makes the Orioles good, he replied, “Everything. Their bullpen is outstanding, they’ve gotten good starting pitching, they hit the ball out of the park, they play good defense. They do a lot of things right.”
Not so for the Yankees in this opener of a four-game series. Starter David Phelps gave up five runs in four innings, David Robertson yielded three runs without getting an out and Girardi reached six-deep into his bullpen to cover eight innings.
“When you’re playing a team for first place, a loss is a loss,” Girardi said. “We swung the bats extremely well, but we didn’t pitch well tonight.”
Adam Jones’ leadoff homer in the eighth off Robertson (1-6) put Baltimore ahead 7-6 after the Yankees rallied from a five-run deficit in the top half. Matt Wieters followed with a single and Mark Reynolds hit his second home run of the game, a drive into the left-field seats. Chris Davis then slammed the first pitch from Boone Logan over the right-field wall.
Wieters and Robert Andino also connected for the Orioles, who hit six in a game for the first time since Aug. 28, 2007, against Tampa Bay.
After trailing the Yankees by 10 games on July 18, the surging Orioles pulled even Tuesday, then dropped a game back on Wednesday before taking the opener of this series.
“It’s a game that coming into, we needed to win, and we were able to do it,” Jones said.
Reynolds, who also went deep in the sixth, has homered in three straight games and has eight long balls in his last seven, including two in each of the three wins against New York.
Baltimore has played several significant games in September in recent years, but this is the first time since 1997 that the Orioles have been in the hunt for a playoff berth. The fans reacted accordingly, cheering from the first pitch to the very end.
The Yankees always attract huge crowds, but this sellout of 46,298 was comprised mainly of fans cheering for the Orioles. The full house and the boisterous orange-clad fans conjured memories of a time long ago, when Baltimore made two straight playoff appearances in 1996-97.
New York trailed 6-1 in the eighth before mounting a comeback fueled by four walks. After Rodriguez hit an RBI double and Curtis Granderson singled in a run, the Yankees put runners on second and third with two outs. The fans rose to their feet in anticipation after Pedro Strop prepared to throw a 1-2 pitch to Russell Martin, but Strop ultimately issued a walk to load the bases for pinch-hitter Chris Dickerson, who drew a four-pitch walk to make it 6-4.
Ichiro Suzuki followed with his third hit, a two-run single, before Darren O’Day (7-1) got the final out.
Orioles starter Jason Hammel gave up one run and six hits in five-plus innings in his first outing since going on the disabled list in mid-July. The right-hander took a line drive by Robinson Cano off his elbow in the fourth, but stayed in the game.
After Hammel warmed up the rowdy fans with a 1-2-3 first, three straight singles against Phelps in the bottom half produced a run before Wieters hit an opposite-field, three-run drive to left for a 4-0 lead. It was his 19th home run of the season and the first since he connected off Phelps on Saturday.
New York got a run in the fourth on Cano’s hit off Hammel’s arm and an RBI single by Granderson. In the Baltimore half, Andino hit his career-high sixth home run to make it 5-1.
Reynolds made it 6-1 with a solo shot off Joba Chamberlain.
NOTES: On the 17th anniversary of the day Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s mark of consecutive games played, the Orioles unveiled a statue of the Iron Man in the picnic area beyond the center field wall. Ripken is the fifth of Baltimore’s six Hall of Fame stars to be so honored this season; the last will be Brooks Robinson. …Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira (strained left calf) jogged lightly in the outfield at Camden Yards before the game and said he’s close to returning to the lineup. .. Cano played 2B for the first time since suffering left hip soreness on Monday. … Girardi said LHP Andy Pettitte (broken ankle) will throw a simulated game at some point this weekend. Pettitte has been on the DL since June 28. … Baltimore improved to 8-7 against New York this season. … The Orioles will send rookie Wei-Yin Chen to the mound Friday night and the Yankees will start Phil Hughes.