By Dave Buscema, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees had watched the Baltimore Orioles jump on them early again. The Orioles again showed they were not intimidated by the puzzled looks of those who question how they are still in the pennant race, or the Yankee Stadium atmosphere -- which often deflates teams this time of year.
So, the Yankees were beset with an early three-run deficit and another key player injured, when Curtis Granderson left the game after the second inning.
But thanks to a key hit by fresh call-up Eduardo Nunez, some wildness by Orioles reliever Pedro Strop, a classic at-bat by Derek Jeter and an error, the Yankees' slumping offense finally pushed across three runs in the seventh for a 4-3 win Saturday.
The victory was just the Yankees' sixth in their last 15 games, but it upped their lead over the Orioles in the AL East back up to three games, when Baltimore had been seven outs from cutting it to one.
"I think that was a great win for us," said Nick Swisher, whose hard smash handcuffed shortstop J.J. Hardy for an error and scored the eventual game-winning run. "We scratched and we clawed and scraped for runs tonight, and hopefully that's a game that can maybe get us out of this little thing we're in, and maybe get us going in the right direction."
Boone Logan (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings to allow the Yankees to get back into it, after starter David Phelps allowed three runs on three hits and a career-high six walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Robinson Cano homered for New York, while Matt Wieters homered for Baltimore.
Wei-Yin Chen (12-8) limited the Yankees to one run through six, but cracked in the seventh, up 3-1. He ended up allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits in 6 2/3 innings.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and Rafael Soriano closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth for his 35th save of the season.
The Yankees were off to a rough start, down 3-0 after the Orioles' half of the fourth, thanks largely to Manny Machado's RBI single and Wieters' home run. It seemed to get even worse after the second inning, when Granderson left the game with what was initially called tightness in his right hamstring.
A little while after Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Alex Rodriguez could return Monday after an issue-free rehab appearance Friday night, the Yankees were facing the prospect of losing another big piece of their lineup. But Granderson's MRI revealed no tear or bruise, Girardi said later, and Granderson said he didn't expect to play Sunday, but could return Monday.
Down 3-1 in the seventh, the Yankees pieced together a rally with help from Nunez. The Yankees' former utility man was demoted in May and missed much of the season with a thumb injury. A September call-up, he started as the DH on Saturday.
With runners on first and second and two outs, he lined a single up the middle, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
"I almost cried," Nunez said with a shy smile, of his feeling when he reached first. "I was a little excited. I'm excited to be back. I'm happy to be back and help the team win."
In came Strop, who entered with a 1.86 ERA, a high 90s mph fastball and a nasty slider. He walked Ichiro Suzuki to load the bases for Jeter, who acknowledged the reliever is "tough to face."
Strop quickly made it tougher, getting ahead 0-2. But Jeter battled back, laying off some tough pitches before finally eyeing a biting slider that was called just inside for ball four. The walk forced in a run, tying the game, 3-3.
"He throws his slider on 3-2, he's got confidence on all his pitches," Jeter said. "Fortunately, it was inside."
Said Strop: "I think it was a pretty close pitch. It could go either way. But I really think it was a good pitch. I mean, it was close."
Swisher then hit a tough one-hopper to Hardy, who bobbled it and couldn't recover in time, for an error, and the Yankees had their first lead in the past two games, 4-3.
"Well, I don't know how they scored it. J.J., 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."
Cano, whose homer in the fourth pulled the Yankees within 3-1, made a defensive play to keep the score there in the top of the seventh. He made a running, over-the-shoulder catch of Robert Andino's blooper into right-center to start the inning. Baltimore later put two on with a single and a walk, but Logan retired Nate McLouth on a fly to right to end the threat.
The Orioles came out of the gate playing well. They not only took a 2-0 lead in the first two innings, but thwarted the Yankees with a pair of diving catches by left fielder McLouth and right fielder Nick Markakis to open the game.
"Jeter and I led off and you're kind of saying to yourself, 'You don't know what's gonna happen," Swisher said of the snake-bitten feeling after Jeter and he were robbed of hits. He later added with a laugh, "Like, 'Holy … right?' … Those two balls, man, you try not to wrap your head around it in a negative way, but for us to go out and pull off that win the way we did tonight, man, that's great for us."
NOTES: Francisco Cervelli, the Yankees' backup catcher for most of the previous two seasons, was a September call-up. ... Orioles righty Jason Hammel was scheduled for his first rehab appearance Saturday night for Class A (Frederick, Md.). If all goes well, he could start next Thursday against the Yankees at Camden Yards, Showalter said.
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