NEW YORK -- After watching Aaron Judge thump his pitching staff all season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided that he wanted no part of him with the game on the line on Sunday afternoon, intentionally walking the rookie slugger to bring the potential winning run to the plate in the ninth inning.
Showalter's gamble paid off. Zach Britton struck out Gary Sanchez to pin two runners on, closing out the Orioles' 6-4 victory over the Yankees as Baltimore salvaged the finale of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
"They're both really good hitters. I have confidence in Zach with either one," Showalter said. "It came up heads today. Tomorrow might be tails. They're both really good hitters and a threat, having a big year, and they're going to have great careers. You're really just picking your poison there."
With the loss, the Yankees remained three games behind the Red Sox in the American League East, as Boston dropped a 3-2 decision to the Rays at Tropicana Field. New York has a four-game lead over the Twins for the first AL Wild Card spot.
"I was ready for the battle," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "If they were not going to pitch to him, they were going to pitch to me. I was ready for it, but unfortunately I couldn't do it."
Tim Beckham hit a three-run homer in support of Ubaldo Jimenez's 10-strikeout effort as the Orioles battered Sonny Gray for five runs and six hits over four innings. The right-hander absorbed his sixth loss in nine starts since being acquired by New York prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"I just wasn't sharp from the beginning," Gray said. "Losing is tough. We played a pretty good series and we could have really capped it off nicely with a win today, but unfortunately that didn't happen." "I just wasn't sharp from the beginning," Gray said. "Losing is tough. We played a pretty good series and we could have really capped it off nicely with a win today, but unfortunately that didn't happen."
"It's obviously good when you win," Britton said. "It's a disappointing series, a disappointing road trip, but go home and try to win as many games as we can from here on out and hope that other teams get cold and get on a losing streak. But it's going to be a challenge."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Bend it: Beckham has been one of the more productive hitters in the O's lineup since being acquired from the Rays on July 31, belting his 10th homer as an Oriole in the fourth inning off Gray. Beckham's three-run blast came on an 83.9-mph slider and cleared the left-field bullpen, staking Baltimore to a commanding 5-1 lead at the time.
"Coming off a hot August like we had, it was definitely a grind," Beckham said. "As hitters, we didn't put up numbers like we normally do, but that's the game of baseball. You want to come back and grind it out and come back and be ready to work the next day. And know that it just takes one hit, one ball on the barrel to get you locked in."
Good gamble: Judge destroyed Baltimore pitching this season, batting .426 (26-for-61) with 11 homers and 24 RBIs against the Birds, so Showalter had no issue instructing Britton to give him a free pass in the ninth, even though he knew Britton would not be happy about it. Britton whiffed Sanchez on a 96.5-mph fastball for the final out, leaving Jacoby Ellsbury on third base and Judge at first.
"It's not something I would have chosen, but now with the [intentional walk] rule, it kind of surprises you for a second," Britton said. "But I just figured I had to get Sanchez. Obviously, I wanted to attack Judge. I like my chances there. But it's not my call."
"You feel pretty good. Sanchez is a really good hitter with a lot of power. I know Britton is tough and he doesn't give up a lot of fly balls, but it takes one mistake. He didn't make one. Credit him, he didn't make a mistake, he kept it down in the zone." -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi
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New York scored 153 runs and hit 46 homers against the Orioles this season. Those are the most runs and homers hit by any team against any single opponent in the Expansion Era (since 1961).
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: Baltimore will return home for its final homestand of the 2017 regular season on Monday, hosting the Red Sox first for three games. Dylan Bundy will take the hill for a 7:05 p.m. ET start. The righty struck out eight across six frames of one-run ball Tuesday, taking a no-decision in the Orioles' loss to the Blue Jays.
Yankees: Left-hander Jaime Garcia (1-2, 4.50 ERA in AL) will start against one of his former clubs on Monday as the Yankees open a three-game series with the Twins, their closest challengers for the first AL Wild Card spot. Minnesota will hand the ball to right-hander Ervin Santana in the 7:05 p.m. ET contest.