BALTIMORE — When the Yankees traded Queens for the Inner Harbor, it was very plain to see that if they wanted to stay connected to the Rays and make a race out of the AL East, they needed to take three of four from the overmatched Orioles in three days.
One step forward followed by a step back isn’t going to allow the Yankees to catch the Rays and win the AL East for a second straight season. It might not be enough to finish second, which would relegate them to wild-card status.
So, when the Yankees eked out a 6-5 win in the first game of Friday night’s doubleheader at Camden Yards that upped their winning streak against the Birds to 19, the visitors were in position for a sweep heading into the nightcap.
For four innings, Deivi Garcia gave them a chance and the Yankees clung to a one-run lead. But with Adam Ottavino having pitched Wednesday and Thursday, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman working Thursday and the first game and Chad Green closing the opener, Aaron Boone summoned 24-year-old Clarke Schmidt to make his major league debut.
The highly hyped former first-round pick gave up two RBI singles and a two-run double to the first three batters he faced that turned a 3-2 lead into a three-run hole on the way to a 6-3 defeat.
Garcia, a 21-year-old right-hander who was very impressive in his major league debut last Sunday against the Mets, took the mound hoping to build on the momentum of the opener that required nine innings to play and had Jonathan Holder, the winning pitcher, score the winning run.
While not as sharp as the first time, Garcia provided a chance for a win that a limp lineup and Schmidt flushed. In 4 ²/₃ innings, Garcia gave up four runs and five hits.
Erik Kratz drove in a pair of runs in the fourth when the Yankees pushed ahead, 3-2, with two unearned runs. An unearned run in the third, when Thairo Estrada drove in Tyler Wade with a ground out, accounted for the Yankees’ first run.
“He has the ability to stay in the moment,’’ Kratz said of Garcia before the first game. Kratz caught Garcia last year at Triple-A, this year at the alternate site and was behind the plate for his first start in which he held the Mets to an unearned run in six innings of a 5-2 victory. “It never gets too big.’’
Boone admitted everything the Yankees do these days is a struggle.
“It’s not easy right now for us but proud of the guys continuing to grind a way and find a way,’’ said Boone, who watched Holder score the go-ahead run from third in the ninth on Miguel Andujar’s single since he started the inning on second base as per doubleheader rules. “We did a lot of things a little unconventional today but really good to go out and grab that first one.’’
Elevated from the alternate site to take Gio Urshela’s place, Andujar delivered an RBI single in the ninth that broke a 4-4 tie and Clint Frazier added a run-scoring single for a two-run advantage.
With Britton pitching the sixth and Chapman the seventh, Boone chose Green to work the ninth. The runner who opened the inning on second scored on a ground ball double play, but Green recorded the final out for the save.
Two of the Yankees’ coldest hitters played a part in the victory. Gary Sanchez homered in the second and Brett Gardner’s two-run single highlighted a three-run third. Gardner singled in the seventh and walked in the ninth.
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