Chen flummoxes Yanks, keeping O's in first

Chen flummoxes Yanks, keeping O's in first

Chen flummoxes Yanks, keeping O's in first
BALTIMORE -- It wasn't his Major League debut or first career win. Heck, it wasn't even Orioles newcomer Wei-Yin Chen's first start against the Yankees. What Tuesday's start was, though, was a phenomenally impressive seven-inning performance in which Chen flummoxed a lethal New York lineup. It was a notable start that ended with one of the most satisfying Orioles wins this season and the 26-year-old lefty -- again -- wiping the remnants of a shaving-cream pie off his face.

The Orioles -- who remain in a tie for first place in the American League East with the Rays -- could get used to this kind of celebration, and Chen looks like a pro in handling the role of recurring star. Chen's performance -- he held New York scoreless until Curtis Granderson's seventh-inning homer -- helped carry the Orioles to a 5-2 victory, their first in five games against the Yankees at Camden Yards this year.

"It all started with Chen shutting down that ridiculous lineup," said center fielder Adam Jones, who got the Orioles' scoring started with a solo homer off CC Sabathia in the second inning. "Someone tweeted at me yesterday, 'That's a Confederate Army of home run hitters.' So he halted that lineup."

And Chen did so in the same quiet fashion that is quickly becoming the norm for him. Chen, signed to a three-year deal out of Japan this past offseason, doesn't throw particularly hard, but he has made a living off pinpoint control. The lefty took the mound in the seventh having retired 10 consecutive Yankees before Robinson Cano's leadoff double, and he exiting the 105-pitch outing with just four hits allowed.

How, exactly did Chen do it?

"He's sneaky," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said of Chen, who improved to 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his first four home starts. "It's not like he's throwing changeups, like [Jamie] Moyer. He gets it up there, 91, 92 [mph]. He hits his spots. He knows how to pitch.

"It's a little unfair to say he's not overpowering, because he mixes in his offspeed stuff and his fastball gets up there pretty good. He knows what he's doing."

"I've been impressed with him every start he's gone out there, because it doesn't matter who the opponent is, what the situation is -- he just goes out there and pitches his game," said catcher Matt Wieters, who noted that Chen's fastball was sharper early on Tuesday than it had been in his previous outing against the Yankees.

"Our bullpen has been used a lot lately, and we need to get our starters throwing like he did tonight."

Chen, who picked up his team by baffling the Rangers -- and avoiding a four-game sweep -- last week, has pitched at least seven innings in three of his last four starts and was a big reason this Orioles club -- which has surprised the collective baseball world -- ended a tough 15-game stretch with an impressive 9-6 record. The O's played four teams that won 90 or more games last season over that period, taking series from New York, Boston and Tampa Bay in the process.

"They're a much improved team," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of a Baltimore club that has held his team to two or fewer runs in four of their last five meetings. "Much improved. Their pitching has improved dramatically, and that's a big difference."

"It doesn't matter which team [we face]; if I can keep pitching good and we can get those W's, that's the best part," Chen said through an interpreter.

After Chen exited to a standing ovation, reliever Pedro Strop pitched his way out of a pair of walks to start the eighth, getting a huge double-play grounder from Robinson Cano to keep the Orioles' three-run cushion intact. Closer Jim Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 12th save of the season, extending his streak of consecutive saves converted to 20, dating back to last season.

The rest of Baltimore's bullpen got a much-needed night off thanks to Chen, who cruised through most of the game with ease, allowing his team a chance to put Sabathia under duress. After Jones' homer, the Orioles loaded the bases against Sabathia and tacked on another run on shortstop J.J. Hardy's double-play grounder. Hardy, who has reached base safely in 19 of 20 games, went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Baltimore was able to chase Sabathia after plating four runs over six innings.

"Any time you face a guy like Sabathia, you have to get a well-pitched game to be in the ballgame," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said." His pitch count was way down early, and we strung together some good at-bats. ... You're not ever going to beat up on him. He's just too good a pitcher."

Sabathia -- who saw his seven-start win streak at Camden Yards come to an end earlier this season -- was charged with eight hits and four walks and took his first loss of the season against a team he has traditionally owned.

"They played us tough even that first series here," said Sabathia, who entered the game 16-2 with a 2.86 ERA in 23 career starts against the O's. "Every game was grind-it-out tough, even yesterday. So that's a really good team over there."

And they are showing it. The Orioles have put together their best start in seven seasons, and they are doing it with contributions up and down the roster. They have an American League-leading 28 May homers and are the only team in the Majors with seven players who have hit five or more home runs. The O's pitching has been led by new additions Jason Hammel and Chen, who made one mistake on Tuesday night, which Granderson sent just over the left-field fence.

In the seventh, Chen surrendered a leadoff double to Cano, and after getting Alex Rodriguez to fly out and striking out Mark Teixeira, Chen watched Granderson send an 0-2 pitch soaring to deep left field, with Xavier Avery trying to time the ball for a leaping grab. But the left fielder's attempt was thwarted when a Yankees fan grabbed the ball instead, robbing Avery of even a fair attempt.

"Heck yeah I had a shot," Avery said of Granderson's drive. "But they had that 10th man out there helping them out. But it's all right; it didn't help them win."

Asked why he didn't claim fan interference, Showalter said: "I knew what the answer was going to be. The ball would have carried out of the ballpark if nobody's standing there ... so our goal was to play well enough so they can't get a ticket."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.