When the calendar turned to September, the first-place New York Yankees suddenly played a little more like, well, the first-place Yankees.
Derek Jeter worked out a tying walk, then sure-handed shortstop J.J. Hardy’s bases-loaded error let the Yankees complete a seventh-inning comeback Saturday for a 4-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The struggling Yankees scored three times in the seventh and restored their three-game lead in the AL East over Baltimore. The streaking Orioles had won 13 straight one-run decisions.
”You don’t look at the standings,” Jeter said. ”If we play well, we’ll be fine.”
As to whether his team’s past history of playing important games was any factor, the Yankees’ captain demurred.
”If you win, they say experience helps,” Jeter said. ”If you lose, they say you don’t have enough youth.”
The Yankees won for only the fourth time in 11 games, but lost another power bat when Curtis Granderson left after two innings because of tightness in his right hamstring. He was taken to the hospital for a precautionary MRI, which showed nothing major.
Manager Joe Girardi doesn’t think Granderson will be sidelined along with injured sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. He will check with his center fielder Sunday before making out his lineup.
Shut down all afternoon, the Yankees took advantage of what Baltimore gave them. Neither team did a lot with the bats – each side got just four hits.
Newly promoted Eduardo Nunez hit an RBI single with two outs that chased Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) and made it 3-2. Pedro Strop, one of baseball’s best relievers, walked Ichiro Suzuki and then threw two quick strikes to Jeter before walking him, forcing home the tying run.
”You know Jete’s not going to panic,” Girardi said.
Nick Swisher followed with a hard, one-hopper that ate up Hardy, who leads major league shortstops in fielding percentage, and the Yankees took the lead.
”I think he’s the best shortstop in the league. I do,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. ”I don’t even think twice about it.”
Baltimore had won six of seven, and was looking to trim the Yankees’ division lead to one game. Rather than having a chance to pull even Sunday, the Orioles need a win to avoid losing ground on their trip to the Bronx.
”A lot of people bend, but don’t break,” Showalter said. ”It’s not one of those things that we’re going to dwell on. This could have been. That should have been. That would have been.”
”We understand that. These guys will turn the page,” he said.
The Orioles were perched shoulder-to-shoulder on the dugout railing for the first pitch. Playoff contenders for the first time in 15 years, they were clearly playing a big game.
They started out well, too.
Left fielder Nate McLouth and right fielder Nick Markakis made nifty diving catches on the first two Yankees batters. Matt Wieters homered to give Baltimore a 3-0 lead in the fourth, and Chen was in control.
But the Orioles missed a chance to score more by grounding into three double plays, keeping the Yankees in the game.
Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings and Rafael Soriano worked the ninth for his 35th save in 38 chances.
Chen set down the first 11 batters before Robinson Cano poked an 0-2 pitch for an opposite-field homer to left, his 28th.
Chen mixed speeds right away, showing Swisher a 68 mph curve in the first inning and following with a 92 mph fastball.
Yankees starter David Phelps looked out of sorts. He walked two, made a wild pickoff throw, gave up a run on McLouth’s double-play grounder and got a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, all in the first inning.
Phelps flexed his shoulders and pawed at the mound after hitting Chris Davis to begin the second. Rothschild again visited the uneasy rookie after Manny Machado’s RBI single.
Notes: The Houston Astros claimed Yankees INF Brandon Laird on waivers. … Phelps was pulled in the fifth after his sixth walk. He issued three walks in August, spanning 19 2-3 innings. … Phelps made a snap throw to pick off Mark Reynolds at first base in the third. Phelps picked off two Texas runners in a game last month. … RHP Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA) starts for the Orioles on Sunday vs. RHP Phil Hughes (13-11, 4.02). … Girardi said LHP Andy Pettitte (broken left ankle) came through fine after a throwing session Friday. Pettitte was to see a doctor later and have another bullpen session soon. … Rodriguez (broken left hand) could rejoin the Yankees when they open a series Monday at Tampa Bay.