BALTIMORE — To a lot of people, including the fraternity of self-loathing Yankees fans, the outcome of the first game of a Friday night doubleheader didn’t mean much.
After all, the Yankees had beaten the brutally bad Orioles 18 consecutive games and even with stars on the injured list the Yankees had a big advantage in talent.
Still, when a team is scuffling as badly as the Yankees have been lately, they were in no position to take anybody wearing a big league uniform lightly. Even if it has “Orioles’’ scripted across the front.
And it is not like the Yankees punished a very poor Baltimore pitching staff or that Mike King turned the Birds’ bats to dust.
Yet a 6-5 win in nine innings over a very bad team might look like spam to some, but it tasted like filet mignon to the Yankees who had lost 10 of the previous 14 games and starting a seven-game road trip that includes three in Buffalo against the plucky Jays who started Friday night’s action tied with the Yankees for second place in the AL East and five games behind the first-place Rays.
Elevated from the alternate site in Moosic, Pa., to take Gio Urshela’s place, Miguel Andujar delivered an RBI single in the ninth that broke a 4-4 tie and Clint Frazier added a run-scoring single for a two-run advantage.
With Zack Britton pitching the sixth and Aroldis Chapman the seventh, Aaron Boone chose Chad Green to work the ninth. The runner who opened the inning on second and scored on a ground ball double play but Green recorded the final out for the save.
Two of the Yankees’ coldest hitters played a part in the victory. Gary Sanchez homered in the second and Brett Gardner hit a two-run single to highlight a three-run third.
King didn’t let a leadoff homer in the first to Cedric Mullins rattle him. He also gave up a two-run home run to Rio Ruiz in the fourth. In four innings King allowed three runs and four hits.
Ben Heller, who was ejected in his previous outing when the umpires wrongly ruled he hit the Rays Hunter Renfroe on purpose this past Wednesday, replaced King. Heller retired the first two batters before Renato Nunez turned a 0-2 pitch into a home run to center that tied the score, 4-4.
After Heller walked Chance Sisco, pitching coach Matt Blake visited the mound before Hanser Alberto grounding out to third.
With a pitch count of 56 through three frames, King took the mound to start the bottom of the fourth with a 4-1 lead that quickly turned into a one-run cushion.
Alberto opened with a single to center and Renato Nunez hit a towering two-run homer to right that made it 4-3. As quickly as the Orioles pulled within a run, King retired the next two Orioles to preserve the lead.
In his third start of the year, King was handed a 4-1 lead via a three-run third and quickly put it in jeopardy by walking Anthony Santander and hitting Jose Iglesias with a 1-2 pitch and one out. King was a pitch away from loading the bases but struck out Nunez with a 3-2 curveball. King stranded two by getting Sisco on a harmless fly to left.
Tyler Wade started the third inning by reaching on Nunez’s fielding error at first base. Wade immediately stole second and moved to third on DJ LeMahieu’s bloop single to center. A walk to Luke Voit loaded the bases for Gardner, who Boone had batted third despite his .177 average.
Gardner made the move look very smart when he whistled a two-run single up the middle off Thomas Eshelman that scored Wade and LeMahieu. A walk to Clint Frazier reloaded the bases for Mike Ford, who flied out to left.
With the bases full and the Yankees leading, 3-1, right-hander Branden Kline surfaced from the Orioles’ bullpen to face Sanchez, who had homered in the second.
Kline got Sanchez to miss a two-strike fastball clocked at 96-mph for the second out and forced in a run when he walked the frigid Mike Tauchman on a 3-2 count that hiked the Yankees’ lead to 4-1. Tauchman opened the game in a 4-for-34 (.118) slide in his previous 13 games, in which he didn’t homer and drove in one run.
Sanchez started the first game of the doubleheader with 12 hits in 92 at-bats, which calculated to a horrifying .130 batting average. Worse the right-handed hitting catcher had whiffed 41 times.
If there were a bright spot in Sanchez’s season, it was that six of those hits were home runs.
With the Yankees trailing, 1-0, in the second inning Sanchez crushed a two-out, bases-empty homer deep into the left-field seats off Eshelman that matched Mullins opening the home first with a homer off King.