O's chance at sweep in Bronx slips away
Walk-off homer hands Uehara first blown save of season
NEW YORK -- They were so close, until Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher sent it so far.
Two outs away from completing the nearly impossible, with visions of his team sweeping the first-place Yankees in the Bronx for the first time since June 1986, O's closer Koji Uehara blew his first save of the season, allowing a walk-off homer to Swisher in a 3-2 loss.
"That was the one thing I didn't want to give up, a home run," Uehara said through translator Jiwon Bang. "I'm not feeling good about it."
The Yankees weren't feeling good coming in, with a three-game losing streak and a series loss already under their belt.
"They came in and took the first two games in our home," Swisher said of a surging O's squad, "and we didn't like that too much."
Clinging to a one-run lead against a lethal lineup, Uehara, who entered Wednesday a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities, allowed a single to slugger Alex Rodriguez to start the ninth. The right-hander got Robinson Cano on a fly ball to deep center field for the first out of the inning and had a chance to get out of the jam unscathed. But Swisher had other plans, sending a 2-0 fastball into left-center field to snap the Orioles' four-game winning streak and deny them an elusive sweep.
"Any time you can come into this place and get two out of three, it's always good," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said of the O's previous two wins, which marked their first two wins against the Yankees this season. "We certainly would have liked to end it on a little better note, but we played great the whole time."
The loss dropped the O's to 21-14 under new manager -- and former Yankees skipper -- Buck Showalter, and it snapped the Orioles' season-high stretch of road wins at five. But it did little to dampen the attitude around a last-place Baltimore squad that went 4-2 in its last six games against the top two teams in baseball.
"Believe me I'm not some curmudgeon that doesn't understand reality," Showalter said. "You know, I'm proud of them. They competed their butt off and were a couple of outs away [from completing a sweep]. This one stings a little bit when you think about what could have been. But you could have thought about that the last two [games], and we didn't.
"It's nine innings, and it's relentless when you are dealing with lineups in the American League East."
And it made starter Brad Bergesen's performance all the more impressive. The 24-year-old right-hander issued a leadoff walk in the third inning to Curtis Granderson, who scored when Brett Gardner hit an RBI double, but Bergesen otherwise kept a potent New York lineup in check.
"I was commanding the outside part of the plate when I needed to, [I] threw good sinkers when I needed to and the changeup was working well for me to keep them off balance," Bergesen said of his game plan. "So those were the things that were key."
Bergesen entered Wednesday's series finale with an 8.53 ERA in nine starts against the AL East, with divisional opponents hitting .350. He bucked that trend big-time, holding the Yankees' Nos. 2-4 hitters to a combined 1-for-9, in the process lowering his ERA to 2.62 in his past eight starts.
Yankees rookie starter Ivan Nova matched Bergesen early, holding the O's to two hits over the first four innings before Baltimore broke through in the fifth. After Adam Jones legged out an infield single, catcher Matt Wieters got the green light on a 3-0 pitch and made the gamble pay off by sending Nova's offering sailing over the left-field fence for a two-run homer that gave Baltimore the lead.
"You expect the fastball [in that count]," Wieters said. "Buck had the confidence to turn me loose, and I put a good swing on it."
New York threatened without a swing in the bottom of the fifth, when Bergesen walked Lance Berkman and one out later hit Francisco Cervelli with an 0-2 pitch that grazed the catcher's left hip. But Bergesen didn't surrender, inducing an inning-ending double play from Gardner to keep the Yankees' bats at bay.
Bergesen exited one out into the seventh -- after allowing a run on four hits -- and helped lower the O's starters' ERA to 2.89 in the three-game set. When asked what it meant that second-year starter Bergesen and rookies Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz were able to shut down the Yankees on their home terrain, Showalter wasn't sure.
"Who knows?" Showalter said. "But you know what it could mean -- I like the fact that they came out there and threw strikes and attacked the hitters. What teams like the Yankees feast on is timidness and not being aggressive. Those are the kind of things we preach to all our guys, but especially those [young starters]."
Following Bergesen, Mark Hendrickson fanned Berkman for the second out of the inning, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi promptly yanked Granderson in favor of pinch-hitter Marcus Thames. Showalter countered by sending right-hander Jim Johnson to the hill, but Thames won the matchup, lacing a ball into right field to put runners on the corners with two outs. With the tying run 90 feet away, Johnson hunkered down, getting Cervelli, the No. 9 batter, to ground out and keep the O's lead safe.
Johnson came back out for the eighth and retired the Yankees in order with a nine-pitch inning that culminated in a called third strike on Mark Teixeira. Johnson's outing capped a 7 1/3-inning scoreless stretch by the O's bullpen, a streak snapped with Swisher's homer.
"That's a team where, if you let them hang around, they're going to find a way to win at the end," Wieters said of the Yankees. "But I'll take the [series]. We played well these three games. ... If we keep playing like this, we're going to be fine."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.