BALTIMORE — That it was only the Orioles didn’t matter much. The Yankees are beating all comers these days, and they are doing it in a variety of ways, with a multitude of heroes. This time, Giancarlo Stanton rested, MVP candidate Aaron Judge registered no hits from the DH spot and the Yankees still prevailed, running their latest of many streaks to 21 victories in 24 games.
The Yankees’ main rival is history now, with the overmatched Orioles only a foil and a footnote.
The Yankees’ 3-2 victory Wednesday night, which was built on the arm of ace Gerrit Cole, some smaller ball than usual and plenty of great glove work, lifted this team into rarefied air.
Yes, the Yankees are really now 28-9, easily the best mark in baseball and tied for the best in the wild-card era (since 1994) at this juncture with the 2001 Mariners and 1998 Yankees, two historically excellent clubs. Those teams won 116 and 114 games respectively, and are only separated by a championship.
These Yankees are now on a 123-win pace, which would of course top everyone. It is hard to imagine they will keep winning at this rate, but it’s just as difficult to anticipate them losing very much, at least not in the near future, not the way they are performing in so many varied areas.
“We won tonight on defense and baserunning. And we’re the Bronx Bombers,” Cole noted in a clubhouse, where wins are expected daily at this point.
In most years, this isn’t a fair fight, and with the Yankees’ $250 million payroll being five times that of the Orioles, this season is no exception. To the Orioles’ credit, they played the first three games of this series — all Yankees wins — reasonably competitively, considering the enormous talent gap.
The Yankees needed some nifty baserunning by Josh Donaldson and Gleyber Torres, who both scored after a wild pitch in a three-run first inning, and a couple of superb early catches by super sub Marwin Gonzalez, playing right in place of Judge, who deserved a day at DH after his superhuman efforts the night before.
Though the Yankees didn’t sign a big free agent this winter, staying under the luxury tax, and took big and undeserved heat for it, the Orioles’ big move was to crack open their piggy bank to change the dimensions of the sport’s most beautiful ballpark.
The Orioles had only a few pennies to spend, and they used it to push the left-field fence at beautiful Camden Yards back, practically to Pratt Street. The move presumably heartened their beleaguered pitchers, but only until the schedule came out reminding them they still had to play 76 games against the other AL East teams, including 19 against the Yankees. Fairness will enter the equation next year, when a more balanced schedule is introduced.
The Orioles on this night can at least take some solace in finally stopping the unstoppable Judge, who had 13 home runs in his previous 21 games and was serenaded with “MVP, MVP” chants. Only the night before, Judge was prevented from his first three-homer game by the newly cavernous Camden Yards when he plastered a ball to left field, the very spot where the Orioles had moved the fence back by 26.5 feet (not to mention raising it from 7 feet high to 13), rendering home runs that way nearly impossible.
It’s no accident dingers are down here by nearly 60 percent this year, from 3.42 per game to 1.39, though Judge hit two homers later Tuesday — one to right-center field and the other to right.
“I feel like it ruins the park,” Judge said about the newly expanded Ballpark dimensions before the game. “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”
There probably isn’t any dimension that would even this score. Consider that Cole this time has been guaranteed more money in his career than the entire 26-man Orioles roster (and throw in the manager and coaching staff) at about $350 million counting his $8 million signing bonus out of UCLA.
Cole, who came into the game with a 1.41 lifetime ERA versus Baltimore, pitched a tidy game. He whiffed five straight Orioles at one point and got the game to the eighth, when the impenetrable Clay Holmes took it home for the save.
Sure, the Yankees have those twin towers of power in Judge and Stanton. But their defense has moved from the bottom rung to the top third, and their bullpen, led lately by Holmes and Michael King, is incomparable. But the greatest strength of this team may be that there are no weaknesses.