If you weren't certain before, Wednesday night at Camden Yards confirmed it: The American League East is officially on its ear.
It was the Orioles who bided their time against a filthy starter, battered the underbelly of the opposition's bullpen and moved farther away in the division standings.
With a 5-3 comeback victory paced by eighth-inning home runs from Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones, the Orioles pulled a Yankee on the New York Yankees. And now the Orioles (69-50) sit eight games ahead of the Yankees (61-58) in their quest for their first AL East crown in 17 years.
Even with Tuesday's rainout shortening the series to two games, the Orioles now have won eight consecutive series and have moved to 30-19 against division foes this season.
It was a strange juxtaposition Wednesday, because it was the Yankees that were obviously desperate for a win. It showed in manager Joe Girardi's decision to bring in his best reliever, All-Star right-hander Dellin Betances, in the sixth with a one-run lead and try to squeeze three innings out of him.
The move paid off initially, with Betances striking out the side in the sixth after allowing a leadoff single. He was perfect in the seventh and was sent out again in the eighth. After getting one more out and tying his career high with 2 1/3 innings pitched, Betances challenged Schoop, who slammed a pitch just over the left field wall to tie the game at 2-2.
It was Schoop's 11th homer this season, including his fourth against the Yankees. He is now batting .380 (11-for-29) with 11 RBIs against New York in his career.
Reliever Shawn Kelley (2-4) entered for Betances and allowed a one-out single to Nick Markakis, walked Chris Davis and then served up a three-run homer to Jones.
Jones ambushed Kelley's first-pitch slider for his 23rd homer of the season -- causing an ear-splitting eruption from the announced 37,587.
Staked to a three-run lead, closer Zach Britton allowed an RBI groundout in the ninth but got Stephen Drew to ground out for his 25th save. Darren O'Day (4-1) was credited with the win after throwing a scoreless eighth in relief of a tremendous outing by Chris Tillman.
After the game, Nelson Cruz ran onto the field with a pie and smashed it into Jones' face. Jones, the normal culprit behind the pies, raised his arms and took the pie in the face without flinching.
The Orioles are now 8-3 in 11 games against the Yankees this season. They still meet eight more times, but the Orioles need to win only two of those to capture their first season-series victory over the Yankees since 1997, which was also the last time they won the AL East title.
The Orioles were flummoxed by Yankees starter Michael Pineda through four perfect innings before Cruz's leadoff double in the fifth. Cruz moved to third on a single by Steve Pearce and then he ended Pineda's shutout by scoring on Ryan Flaherty's sacrifice fly.
It was the only blemish on an otherwise splendid outing by Pineda, who has been on the disabled list most of the season with a muscle injury in his right shoulder. Wednesday was the 6-foot-7 right-hander's fifth start of the season and his first since he was ejected April 23 -- and subsequently suspended 10 games -- for having pine tar smeared on the right side of his neck.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, only half-jokingly, said before the game that he hoped Pineda had pine tar somewhere Wednesday, because he didn't want the hard-throwing 25-year-old to lose his grip of the baseball.
Pineda's aim and his outcome were close to perfect, but he was pulled after five innings, throwing 67 pitches, 48 for strikes. He struck out four batters and walked none before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Pineda left with a 2-1 lead, and Tillman kept the Orioles close until the offense could break out.
Tillman retired the first six batters he faced, but Drew led off the third with a fly ball to left field that Delmon Young chased down but failed to catch. It was ruled a double.
Two batters later, Yankees catcher and No. 9 hitter Francisco Cervelli homered to left for his second of the season to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. It was Cervelli's fourth hit in eight at-bats against Tillman in his career.
After Cervelli's homer, Tillman allowed just three singles the rest of the way. He allowed just two runs and five hits while walking none and striking out three batters in seven strong innings. It was his 11th quality start in his last 13 outings and the 10th time in his last 15 games that Tillman has given up two runs or fewer.
Again, Tillman's success started with his ability to consistently throw his fastball for strikes. He has now issued just two walks in his past four games totaling 25 2/3 innings.
The last batter Tillman faced was also the last one Girardi would see. With two outs in the seventh, Drew tapped a ball in front of the plate. Orioles catcher Nick Hundley grabbed it and then threw beyond first baseman Steve Pearce, allowing Drew to get to second. But Drew was called out for running outside of the baseline.
Girardi stormed out and heatedly argued the call, screaming, "Be consistent," at home plate umpire Gerry Davis. Girardi retreated toward the dugout, but went back at Davis, who quickly ejected the Yankees manager.
It was Girardi's 26th career ejection; his 23rd as a manager.
He didn't wait around to see his club give back the game in the eighth. Or for the Orioles to pick up another win, old Yankee style.
(c)2014 The Baltimore Sun
Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services