The Yankees had sent 10 men to the plate in the top half of the inning, scoring five runs to even what had felt like a blowout for most of the night. But Adam Jones put the O's right back in the driver's seat, crushing a leadoff blast off David Robertson.
Mark Reynolds continued the barrage, blasting his second homer of the night, a two-run shot off Robertson that sparked bedlam among a sellout crowd of 46,298 on hand in the Inner Harbor. Chris Davis put the game out of reach, greeting Boone Logan with a solo blast.
"The team fought really hard the whole game," said Robertson, who faced three batters and retired none. "We finally scratched something together in the eighth; put five runs up. I'm supposed to be able to come in and hold it and wasn't able to do it."
Jones said that the win was, for the Orioles, "by far" their biggest of the year.
"With Robertson, when he comes in, he shuts you down," Jones said. "We were able to get him."
The Yankees thought they had picked up momentum after moving back into sole possession of the division on Wednesday, especially after sending 10 men to the plate in the eighth against rattled reliever Pedro Strop -- including Ichiro Suzuki's game-tying, two-run single.
"We took some walks, we had some base hits, Ichiro had a big night for us," manager Joe Girardi said. "We're able to come back and tie it up against their bullpen, which has been outstanding. Strop has been excellent for them. You think that something's going to happen tonight."
Instead, the night presented just another crushing defeat for the swooning Bombers, who suffered their 26th loss in 46 games and are facing the reality that, after squandering what was a 10-game lead in the AL East on July 18, the Orioles just might not go away.
"It seems like that," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "They've got a good bullpen, their starters are doing the job and their lineup is hitting well. They're going to be tough all the way, no question."
Girardi said that the three-homer eighth didn't make the game any tougher to handle than if the score had held at 6-1, as it was when Reynolds clubbed his first blast off Joba Chamberlain in the sixth.
"When you're fighting a team for first place, a loss is a loss," Girardi said. "We swung the bats extremely well. We didn't pitch well tonight."
Matt Wieters' three-run homer set the tone in Baltimore's four-run first, as the Orioles wasted no time pouncing on rookie right-hander David Phelps, who fooled few in an ineffective four-inning outing.
J.J. Hardy and Nate McLouth stroked one-out singles and, for the third time this season, Phelps slipped off the mound to balk the runners ahead and Adam Jones laced an RBI single.
Wieters then delivered the big blow, slugging a high, arcing opposite-field drive that cleared the fence near the left-field foul pole for his 19th home run of the season. Robert Andino also cracked a fourth-inning homer off Phelps.
"To come out of the gate that way and put us in a hole like that, it's unacceptable," Phelps said. "We had a big win [Wednesday] night, and we just lose all of that momentum that we built up [Wednesday] night in five batters. I've got to be better than that."
Despite taking a fourth-inning Robinson Cano liner off his left elbow, Baltimore's Jason Hammel limited New York to a run on six hits over five-plus innings, leaving to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Many of those customers were drawn to the ballpark for a pregame statue dedication honoring Cal Ripken Jr., with the Orioles trotting out notable names like Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and Earl Weaver for the occasion.
That cast had no trouble remembering when Yankees-Orioles was a marquee AL East matchup, not that they need to roll the clock back anymore. These meetings do the trick just fine, as the Yankees suspect they'll have a battle on their hands the rest of the way.
"The last two nights, we've been swinging the bats a little bit better," Rodriguez said. "We hit a lot of balls really well early in the game. They played some good defense. As an offense, we need to stay focused on our goals. If we can come out and score five to six runs per night, you can go from there."