BALTIMORE — For the second night in a row, a sea of eyes followed the descent of a towering Greg Bird flyball to right field.
The left-handed-hitting New York Yankees first baseman nearly had touched Eutaw Street with his home run Tuesday, but with two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning Wednesday, the blast was bending right toward foul territory. Baltimore Orioles starter Dylan Bundy and Bird both froze, about 60 feet apart, and silently willed the ball in opposite directions.
It was curling . . . curling . . . until it clanged off the right field foul pole at Camden Yards. The grand slam was ultimately the critical blow for the Yankees in a 9-0 drubbing of the Orioles. Before it, the Orioles had hope, buoyed by their walk-off win the night before. After it, with Baltimore suddenly trailing by five runs, that hope evaporated. The Orioles managed five hits all night, and only two runners reached third base.
“[Bundy’s] stuff was pretty good,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “They just had some good at-bats off of him. . . . I don’t worry about Dylan. He’s close. We just didn’t score any runs again. I’d love to see our pitchers get some margin for error, especially early in the game.”
After Bird’s blast, Bundy put his hands on his hips. He thought his stuff was “really good,” and he had struck Bird out on 11 pitches the inning before. It took until the ninth pitch of Bird’s second at-bat for the Yankees slugger to get him back.
“I gave him every pitch I had in my arsenal, and he was able to foul most of them off,” Bundy said. “Then the curveball . . . ”
Bird grinned as he rounded first base as the first Yankee to collect four RBI in back-to-back games since Alfonso Soriano did it in 2013. Bundy trudged back to the mound, en route to one of his worst outings of the season: four innings, five hits, four walks, five earned runs. Orioles right fielder Danny Valencia plucked the ball out of the grass in deep right field, where it had come to rest. The home run wasn’t insult enough — he had to clean up after it, too. Valencia tossed the ball away.
Baltimore (26-67) had squandered its chance to snatch a third win in this four-game set, to further undermine the Red Sox-Yankees chest-beating taking place at the top of the American League East. Instead, New York (60-31) would flee town having managed a series split, evening at five games apiece the season series against an Orioles team few others have struggled to beat. The Yankees remain 3½ games behind the first-place Red Sox, who won their ninth straight.
Throughout the series, Orioles fans seemed less bothered by the invasion of Yankees fans and by the two clubs’ talent disparity — they have been conditioned recently to accept both — and more bothered by the fact that they could envision their biggest homegrown star soon exchanging his jersey for that of a division rival.
The rumors of New York trading for all-star shortstop Manny Machado blanketed this series from start to finish. The Yankees emerged as a suitor in reports Monday, and it became the subtext of his every movement. By Wednesday, minutes before first pitch, the Yankees reportedly had made the Orioles a “strong offer.” However, the proposition reportedly did not involve the prospect Baltimore covets, 22-year-old left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield.
Unlike Tuesday, though, when Machado hit two home runs, he provided no fireworks, no late-game heroics Wednesday.
The Orioles’ bats cooled with the weather as Yankees starter Sonny Gray — who entered the night with a 5.85 ERA — floated through six innings, striking out eight while allowing three hits and a walk.
“There was a different guy out there tonight [than we saw on scouting film],” Showalter said. “Even early on, he had two shapes on his breaking ball. He was really comfortable throwing it short when he needed to and getting it for a strike.”
When Showalter was asked whether he still thinks struggling pitchers look at the Orioles’ toothless offense and believe those are the games to get them back on track, he said, “That’s human nature.”
The Orioles pulled Machado before the ninth inning, trailing 8-0. They shifted regular third baseman Tim Beckham to shortstop. The fans who noticed cheered for Machado as they had in nearly every at-bat this series, as if it were one of the last times they would.
When first baseman Chris Davis struck out to end the game — a fitting end for the player struggling the most on a struggling team — many of the park’s seats were empty. This was a night when everything seemed broken, when the horizon seemed to hold only an inevitable casting-off for many of those responsible for duct-taping this thing together. Nights such as these have made it a long summer in Baltimore.