BALTIMORE — So far in this bizarro baseball season, there’s been a four-month shutdown due to a pandemic and labor dispute, followed by countless rule changes and a constantly changing schedule.
But one thing has remained the same: The Yankees can’t seem to lose to the Orioles.
Even after blowing a five-run lead and seeing the Orioles hit a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth, Aaron Judge delivered a blast of his own to save the Yankees in an 8-6 win.
It was the Yankees’ 18th straight victory over the Orioles — and 17th in a row at Camden Yards.
But this one didn’t come easily.
Luke Voit’s grand slam helped give the Yankees a 5-0 lead in the first, but J.A. Happ, who struggled with home runs a year ago, gave up a pair of two-run homers in his first outing of the season.
The first was to Hanser Alberto in the first and Rio Ruiz hit another in the second.
The Yankees had a chance to add to their lead in the eighth when Giancarlo Stanton, who finished 3-for-4, continued his torrid start with a one-out walk and Aaron Hicks ripped a double. But Voit whiffed and Gary Sanchez, still searching for his first hit of the season, did the same to end the threat.
Still, after a shutout inning from Adam Ottavino and two scoreless frames from Jonathan Loaisiga, the Yankees were five outs away from another win when Pedro Severino took Loaisiga deep for another two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth.
The Yankees didn’t trail for long.
Gio Urshela started the top of the ninth with a walk and moved to second on DJ LeMahieu’s one-out single to right.
That’s when Judge, who hit his first homer of the year on Wednesday, came up to face the overmatched Cole Sulser and deposited a 3-1 pitch into the left-field seats.
Zack Britton came on to close it with a scoreless ninth for his second save of the year in a game that was delayed for 94 minutes by rain before the bottom of the sixth.
The Yankees have won three in a row — with two games that weren’t played against the Phillies to start this week due to coronavirus concerns — as they head into Friday’s home opener versus the Red Sox.
They certainly seem capable of pounding their way to the postseason — if the season gets that far — but they would no doubt like to see more from the 37-year-old Happ.
He allowed four runs in four innings and gave up the two home runs. A year ago, he permitted a career-high 34 homers.
While Gerrit Cole has been stellar in his first two outings, James Paxton lasted just one-plus inning in his season debut, but with a bullpen as solid as the Yankees, they don’t need a dominant rotation.
Still, with Luis Severino out for the season following Tommy John surgery, they’ll need more than Cole and Masahiro Tanaka.
But it’s clear the lineup is as good as advertised, with Stanton reaching base four more times and Judge healthy after missing much of spring training with a fractured rib and punctured lung he suffered last season.
They’ll outslug plenty of opponents — especially if they get to play the likes of the Orioles more often.
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