YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 4
Whenever baseball announcers brought up the myriad injuries the Yankees have suffered through this season the name Eduardo Nunez rarely came up. It was as if the 26-year-old shortstop was the forgotten man among all those superstars that were languishing on the disabled list.
But Nunez served notice he was back in a big way on Saturday by rolling an RBI single up the middle with one out in the sixth inning that proved to be the game-winner as New York extended its winning streak to a season-high six games by edging Baltimore in front of a swelteringly hot paid crowd 42,678 at Yankee Stadium.
Nunez was activated from the disabled list just before the game after having not played in a game since May 5 due to a severely strained left oblique. He was immediately inserted into the lineup at shortstop and batted eighth.
He then sparked the Yankees by going 2-for-3 with a run scored and two RBIs after hitting just .200 with no home runs and four RBIs in the 27 games he played before suffering the injury.
Andy Pettitte (6-6) gutted out the 91-degree heat and high humidity to pitch into the seventh inning to collect his first victory since June 8 in Seattle against the Mariners, a span of five starts.
The Yankees trailed the Orioles throughout the early innings until the fifth against right-hander Chris Tillman (10-3).
With the O’s up 4-2, Nunez opened the inning with a lined opposite-field single to right and Chris Stewart followed with single to left. Brett Gardner advanced the runners a base with a sacrifice bunt and Ichiro Suzuki brought Nunez home with a bouncer up the middle that likely also would have scored Stewart.
However, Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla made a diving stop on the outfield grass to keep Stewart at third. But the sparkling play could not prevent Robinson Cano from dumping a bloop single into left that scored Stewart with tying run.
The Yankees seized control of the game in the sixth when Lyle Overbay laced his third straight single of the day to open the frame and Luis Cruz bunted him to second. That set the stage for Nunez, who drove in the Yankees’ second run of the game in the second inning with a sacrifice fly, to come through with what proved to be the game-winning hit.
Tillman was charged with five runs on 10 hits and two walks while he struck out three in 5 1/3 innings. The loss broke a streak of seven consecutive winning decisions for the veteran right-hander.
Pettitte left with two out in the seventh having yielded four runs (three earned) on nine hits and no walks while he fanned four batters.
Relievers Shawn Kelley, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Orioles over the final 2 1/3 innings on two hits, no walks and three strikeouts.
Rivera twirled a scoreless ninth – striking out former Yankee Chris Dickerson swinging with the tying run on first for the final out – to earn his 29th save in 30 chances this season. That save ties the 43-year-old future Hall-of-Fame closer with the O’s Jim Johnson for the major-league lead in saves in his final season.
The Orioles got on the board in the first inning off Pettitte when Adam Jones slapped a two-out single to left and Chris Davis stroked his major-league-leading 33rd home run to dead center to make 2-0.
The O’s added an unearned run in the second whenPettitte made a wild throw over Overbay’s outstretched glove on a single off the bat of Nolan Reimold, which allowed Reimold to take second. Casilla followed with an RBI single to left to score Reimold.
The Yankees got back into the game with two runs in the second.
Travis Hafner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on an opposite-field single off the bat of rookie Zoilo Almonte. Overbay then laced a sharp single to right to load the bases and Cruz drove in a run in the third of the four games he has played with the Yankees with a single to left that scored Hafner.
Nunex then drove a ball deep into left-center to score Almonte, however, Reimold gunned down Stewart trying to advance to third for a double play, which effectively killed the rally.
The Orioles added a run in the third on a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy and he advanced to third on a fly ball to center by Reimold and scored one out later on a single by Taylor Teagarden.
The Yankees rally to win also provided them with a claim on second place in the American League East. The victory gives them a 48-39 record and they passed the Orioles, who are now 48-40. The Yankees trail first-place Boston by 5 1/2 games as the Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels on the West Coast.
- Nunez blew a great opportunity to be the team’s utility infielder last season with some erratic play in the field. He also got injured and missed most of the 2012 season with a nagging right thumb injury. This season he was handed the shortstop job because Derek Jeter was rehabbing from left ankle surgery. But Nunez suffered a severe oblique strain that sidelined for two months. But when Nunez is right, he can help the Yankees as a career .264 major-league hitter with 40 steals in 49 attempts. His 2-for-3 day pretty much shows what the Yankees have missed from him.
- Cruz has been impressive ever since he joined the team as a free agent signee on Tuesday. He is 4-for-14 (.286) with three RBIs in four games. With the addition of Nunez as shortstop, the Yankees on Saturday moved Cruz to third base, which allowed them to sit a slumping David Adams. The Yankees need right-hand production in the lower part of the order and Nunez and Cruz may provide it.
- Overbay’s 3-for-4 day hopefully will get him turned around at the plate. In the previous nine games, Overbay was 6-for-28 (.214). Of course, since the season-ending wrist surgery was performed on Mark Teixeira the Yankees have been forced to play Overbay every day and he is hitting an anemic .190 against left-handers. The Yankees could use a right-handed hitter who can play the position.
- Gardner was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three groundouts. In his past four games, Gardner is in a 1-for-17 (.059) slide that has dropped his season average from .288 to .276. The slump comes despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi rested him on Thursday.
- Two base-running blunders really hurt the Yankees but ultimately they did not cost them a victory. One was Stewart’s decision to go to third on Nunez’s sacrifice fly in the second inning. Stewart was thrown out easily by Reimold trying to slide into third base for the second out when Stewart was already in scoring position at second base. The other blunder came when Gardner dropped down a sacrifice bunt in the sixth. Nunez was on second and assumed that pitcher Brian Matusz would throw to first. But the left-hander threw to Manny Machado at third and Nunez was thrown out because he did not run hard.
- Though Pettitte did win the game, he did not pitch well. In his past five starts dating back to June 14, Pettitte has yielded 19 earned runs on 41 hits and eight walks in 31 1/3 innings. He is 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA and a WHIP of 1.56 over that span.
The Yankees placed right-hander David Phelps on the 15-day disabled list with a mild right forearm strain. Phelps, 26, will be shelved for 10 days and then will be re-evaluated. An MRI taken on Friday did not show any ligament damage. Phelps is 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 12 starts. To take his place on the roster the Yankees activated Nunez from the 60-day disabled list and they shifted Teixeira to the 60-day disabled list. Ivan Nova, who earned his first major-league complete-game victory on Friday pitching in place of Hiroki Kuroda will remain the rotation in place of Phelps. . . . Jeter will play in his first rehab game on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a game against Lehigh Valley. Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his final rehab appearance as the starter for the RailRiders in the same game. Pineda is 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA and 15 strikeouts in his previous four starts. The Yankees will have to decide whether to activate him from the disabled list or option him to Scranton.
The Yankees can pay back the Orioles for sweeping them at Camden Yards last week by pulling off a home sweep of their own against Baltimore on Sunday.
Kuroda (7-6, 2.95 ERA) will start for the Yankees after missing his scheduled start on Friday with soreness in his left hip. Kuroda lost to the O’s in his last start on June 30, giving up four runs on seven hits in six innings. He is 2-3 with a 3.90 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
Right-hander Jason Hammel (7-5, 5.19 ERA) will start for Baltimore. Hammel was tagged for five runs on nine hits and a walk while he struck out seven in a loss Tuesday to the Chicago White Sox. He has not won a game in his past six starts. He is 3-3 with 5.46 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.