By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees were on the verge of watching their entire season crumble in the most embarrassing way possible Thursday night. Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer was just five outs away from no-hitting the so-called Bronx Bombers, who were not only about to watch their season come to a close, but become a punchline for every baseball joke that would follow.
But Chris Young saved the Yankees season, doubling in the eighth inning with one out and the Yankees trailing 4-0. Martin Prado, who has been the Yankees hottest hitter since coming over in a trade, then homered to cut the deficit to 4-2. In the ninth inning, an Ichiro Suzuki double put runners on second and third, From there, Young delivered again, this time hitting a walk-off, three-run home run to beat the Rays and keep the Yankees in the wild card pennant race, four back of the Tigers.
Now, the Yankees need to take this momentum and turn it into a series win against a red-hot Orioles team that will win the AL East this season. But the Yankees might be catching the Orioles at the perfect time, as Chris Davis was suspended Friday for using amphetamines. It's a distraction Baltimore will have to deal with Friday, even if Davis has been terrible this season. He was batting just .196, the worst batting average for a regular in Orioles history.
Here's a closer look at yet another important series for the Yankees.
New York Yankees (75-69, 4 GB of second WC)
at Baltimore Orioles (86-59, first place in AL East)
Friday, 1:05 p.m.
Brandon McCarthy (9-14, 4.13) vs. Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.83)
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Bryan Mitchell (0-0, 0.00) vs. Bud Norris (12-8, 3.92)
Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Shane Greene (4-3, 3.57) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (9-7, 3.22)
Sunday, 8 p.m.
Hiroki Kuroda (10-9, 3.91) vs. Chris Tillman (12-5, 3.36)
Playoff Picture: The Yankees trail the Athletics by five games for the top wild card and the Tigers by the four games for the second. Between those teams and the Yankees are the Mariners (half-game back of Tigers) and the Blue Jays and Indians (both 3.5 games back). The Yankees need to win at least three of four from the Orioles starting with Friday's doubleheader. The Athletics are in Seattle for three games starting Friday night. The Yankees need the A's to win that series, as Mariners will be easier to catch in the standings rather than Oakland. The Tigers host the Indians for three games starting Friday, with the Yankees needing the Indians to win that series. The Blue Jays are home for three games starting Friday against the Rays. The Yankees need a ton of help from Tampa Bay, a team they may crushed with their series win Thursday night.
Momentum: The Yankees should have it, after Young's heroics in the series finale Thursday against the Rays, but there's no telling how they will respond to the thrilling victory. The last time the Yankees had that kind of momentum-building win, one week prior against the Red Sox, they lost three of their next four games. That obviously can't happen this time around. It may not be official yet, but the Orioles are your AL East champions. They have won seven of their last nine games, including a three-game sweep against the Red Sox coming into this series.
Who's Hot: Young is batting .545 with two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI over his last five games. McCarthy, who goes Friday afternoon, won his last start, allowing two runs in 6.2 innings in beating the Royals. For Baltimore, Nelson Cruz is batting .367 with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and 10 RBI over his last seven games. Alejandro De Aza went 5-for-12 with a double, two home runs and four RBI against the Red Sox. Gonzalez, who goes Saturday, has won three straight starts and hasn't allowed a run in his last two starts. Tillman, who starts Sunday, has won five straight starts.
Who's Not: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira all have batted under .200 over the past week. Kuroda, who pitches Sunday, allowed four runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings in a loss to Tampa Bay. For Baltimore, Davis is done for 25 games, but the Orioles aren't missing much, as he was batting .214 with a home run over his last seven games. Jonathan Schoop is 1-for-his-last-20. Nick Markakis is batting just .174 over his last six games. Norris, who starts Friday night, allowed four runs in six innings in his last start. Gausman, who pitches the opener, has lost his last three decisions.
Looking Ahead: The Yankees travel to Tampa Bay for three games starting Monday.