NEW YORK — Pedro Strop’s success as Baltimore’s set-up man is a major reason why the Orioles were where they were on Saturday afternoon, in Yankee Stadium with a chance to close the gap in the American League East to a single game.
Orioles Manager Buck Showalter admitted that Strop’s outings sometime offer “a ride” because he has so much movement on his pitches. But the results are exemplary. He came into Saturday’s game with a 1.86 ERA, fifth best among AL relievers.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old Strop came so close to another late-inning hold, but instead was front-and-center of a costly Baltimore collapse in the Bronx.
Strop couldn’t preserve a one-run lead in the seventh inning, unable to get the frame’s third out and opening the doors for New York’s 4-3 comeback win in front of a crowd of 46,122 at Yankee Stadium.
“It would have been a nice game to win,” said Matt Wieters, whose solo homer in the fourth inning was Baltimore’s only extra-base hit. “There’s no doubt about that, but it doesn’t matter moving forward what happened today. We’re going to go out here and have a chance to win the series tomorrow and that’s our mind-set.”
The Yankees plated the game-winning run on a rare fielding error by shortstop J.J. Hardy, who came in leading all major league shortstops with a .992 fielding percentage.
The loss snapped the Orioles’ streak of 13 straight wins in one-run games. Baltimore is 24-7 in games decided by one run.
The loss dropped the Orioles (73-59) three games behind the division-leading Yankees (76-56). Baltimore entered Saturday having won five of six games in the Bronx, but couldn’t capitalize on New York starter David Phelps’s early struggles. Phelps allowed 10 baserunners in 42 / 3 innings, including six walks and a hit batter.
The Orioles had just four hits on the day, and just one after Wieters’s 18th homer of the year gave Baltimore a 3-0 lead.
Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen retired the first 11 Yankees he faced until Robinson Cano’s opposite-field homer to left gave New York its first hit and cut it to 3-1. Chen fell into trouble in the seventh, chased from the game with two on and two outs after Eduardo Nunez’s looping single drove in former Oriole Steve Pearce to cut it to 3-2.
“This is the AL East, the toughest division in the league,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “Our bullpen has done a really great job this whole year. The only thing I can say is: I didn’t pitch good in the seventh inning. I couldn’t get the ball down.”
Chen gave way to Strop, who lacked crispness from his first pitch. He walked Ichiro Suzuki on five pitches to load the bases. And a full-count slider to Derek Jeter was inside to walk in a run to tie the score at 3.
“Everything just happened quick,” Strop said “I couldn’t handle my sinker, it was running too much. Maybe it was because mechanically I was off. Something happened that I’m going to find out and fix it as soon as possible.”
Strop battled back from a 3-1 count on Nick Swisher to induce a ground ball to short that should have ended the inning, but Hardy couldn’t handle the in-between hop, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
“I think he’s the best shortstop in the league,” Showalter said of Hardy. “I do. That’s not something I think twice about. That time of the day, the infield’s so chewed up. It’s partly our fault because we had a bunch of baserunners out there chewing it up.”
Strop, who fell behind all three batters he faced but worked each count full, is fifth in the league with 23 holds this season. He has blown five saves, but this was the first one that led to a Baltimore loss.
“Strop has been good for us all year,” Wieters said. “That’s one outing. I’m not too concerned with it. It’s something where they put together some good at-bats and they weren’t going to chase often. They were going to make him come in there and throw strikes. There were some close pitches that just missed.”
“He competed his butt off,” Showalter said. “It’s not something we’re going to dwell on. We’re going to move on and try to win the series [Sunday].”
The Orioles couldn’t put together a big inning against the struggling Phelps, who allowed five of his first seven batters to reach base. Nick Markakis drew a walk and Hardy singled to open the game, but Nate McLouth hit into a double play that scored the game’s first run, but killed the Orioles’ rally.
Baltimore had Phelps on the ropes again the next inning after Chris Davis was hit by a pitch and Mark Reynolds walked to lead off. Manny Machado’s one-out single made it 2-0, but Markakis grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
“We had some opportunities, but we couldn’t get that big two-out hit like we have in the past couple of weeks to extend our lead there,” McLouth said. “We’ve had some good at-bats the last couple of weeks, but we weren’t able to do it today.”