The Yankees celebrated Aaron Judge’s return with a game that mirrored their 2023 season.
Anthony Santander hit a walk off, solo home run off of reliever Tommy Kahnle to stun the Yankees and give the Orioles a gut wrenching 1-0 win in the opener of a huge three game series at Camden Yards.
“Tough, tough loss obviously held them down so well, had a couple of opportunites, you know Frazier makes a great play there, Santander makes a great play,” Yankee Manager Aaron Boone said. “Then one big swing from their side.”
With one out, Santander unloaded on a 2-0 change up from Kahnle for a no doubter as the Yankees once again wasted a brilliant performance from their ace, Gerrit Cole.
Santander knew it was gone as soon as he hit it as he tossed his bat and yelled at his dugout before he rounded the bases for the Orioles, who are no longer the Yankees’ patsies as they have been for a number of years.
You would think Judge’s return would have energized the Yankees but they only had four hits off of Baltimore pitching and killed two potential rallies by banging into inning ending double plays.
The Yankee captain was the DH and hit second in the lineup but he came up only one time with runners on base. Despite missing 42 games with a toe injury, Judge maintained his plate discipline and walked three times. It was also a sign of things to come as the opponents will not pitch to Judge and will dare the other hitters like Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton to beat them.
“I think I was a little jumpy to begin with, I think it was after my second at bat, you know swinging at a high fastball, I kinda told myself, alright take it easy a little bit and just put a good at bat out there,” said Judge after the game. “If you get your pitch to hit, take your swing.”
Judge’s first at bat ended with a hard line out to right field on the first pitch from Orioles starter Grayson Rodriguez, who tossed six and a third scoreless innings (3H, 2 BB, 4 Ks) and became the 38th starting pitcher to give up two or fewer runs against the Yankees. Rodriguez threw first pitch strikes to 16 of the first 17 Yankee hitters he faced.
D.J. LeMahieu had two of the Yankees’ four hits as Baltimore’s pitchers matched zeros in a tension filled contest.
The Orioles also made three sparkling defensive plays to keep the Yankees off the board. Two of those plays came off the bat of Anthony Volpe, who epitomized hitting in bad luck.
Third baseman Ramon Urias was the first to flash the leather. With LeMahieu on first and two out, Urias made a diving stop and throw to rob Volpe of an extra base hit to end the fifth.
Volpe led off the eighth inning against reliever Yennier Cano and lined a ball towards the right field corner, but Santander made a superb, diving catch to frustrate the Yankee shortstop a second time.
With two on and two out in the 8th, the O’s went to lefty Danny Coulombe to face Rizzo. The lefty swinger hit a liner that appeared headed to right field for a potential run scoring single, but second baseman Adam Frazier made a diving stop and threw him out to demoralize the Yankees. “A couple of guys hit the ball hard, they made some great plays on defense on the other side so you gotta tip your cap and come out tomorrow, swinging,” Judge said.
Orioles closer and winner Felix Bautista pitched a dominant ninth inning to set up the walk off heroics.
Bautista began the inning by blowing away Stanton with a 99 MPH, four seam fastball up in the zone. LeMahieu flied to right and Bautista ended the inning in style as he struck out Billy McKinney with a four seam fastball at 101 MPH.
Cole, who threw a season high 110 pitches, was in total command. The Yankee ace gave up three hits, struck out five and walked no one in tossing seven scoreless innings. Baltimore never had more than one runner on base during Cole’s outing that lowered his ERA to a league leading 2.64. “Just really in command with all his pitches right now, another great outing,” said Boone.
The Yankees had two on and one out in the fourth but Stanton squashed the rally by hitting into a 5-4-3 double play.
Shintaro Fujinami, who was recently acquired by the Orioles in a trade with the Oakland A’s, relieved Rodriguez in the 7th and walked McKinney, but Harrison Bader killed the inning by bouncing into a 6-4-3 double play.
With the loss, the Yankees fell 3.5 games behind Toronto for the third and final AL Wild Card spot. The Yankees are now two games behind Red Sox for fourth and they lead the sixth place Angels by a half game.
At this point of the season, the Yankees’ margin for error is slim. “We need to play good baseball,” Boone said. “These are all important, big, a lot on the line games. That’s just the nature of the beast this time of the year.”
The trade deadline is Tuesday at 6 PM, eastern time. It will be fascinating to see how the Yankees approach it.