NEW YORK -- Every game is important now, but for the Baltimore Orioles -- in unfamiliar territory with a late-July meaningful divisional matchup -- Monday's win was particularly sweet.
Coming off a series loss to the Oakland A's, a plucky O's team -- that has rebounded from several rough stretches already this season -- continued to fight, hanging on for a 5-4 win over the American League East-leading Yankees to kick off a six-game road trip. The victory puts the second-place Orioles 6 1/2 games back for the division and two games back, tied with the Detroit Tigers, in the Wild Card standings.
"We know where we stand and we know who we're up against," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who agreed that Monday's win was "absolutely" a big one for the Orioles.
"We won that last game at home, and to come in here and take one to start off the series is definitely big. We're starting off on the right foot, and now we just need to come in tomorrow and duplicate it."
The Orioles, who have had a woefully inconsistent starting rotation, would sign up for another outing like the one they got from Miguel Gonzalez on Monday. Coming off his worst outing this season, Gonzalez was impressive over 6 2/3 innings, and held the Yankees' top five batters to 1-for-15 with seven K's en route to a career-high eight strikeouts.
"I thought he was outstanding," manager Buck Showalter said of Gonzalez, who improved to 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA in three road starts. "We talked a little bit [on Sunday] about attacking them and just being aggressive. You fiddle around with the strike zone, you're going to have some problems, but he showed [catcher Matt Wieters] that he had command of some other pitches that he could slow them down a little bit, and they couldn't sit on one pitch."
Added Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "I think the kid did a nice job of mixing in his offspeed when he was behind in the count, expanding [the strike zone] when he was ahead in the count, [and] using his fastball on both sides of the plate."
While Gonzalez -- who has established more confidence in his changeup with each successive outing -- was working on slowing down the Yankees, the Orioles' offense continued to show signs of getting back on track. After scoring more than four runs in three of their first 13 games after the All-Star break, the O's have scored more than four in four of their last five, with Monday's output including a pair of key two-out seventh-inning scores.
In that frame, Markakis doubled in No. 9 batter Omar Quintanilla for his second RBI of the night, and shortstop J.J. Hardy scored Markakis with a single off reliever David Phelps to give the Orioles a three-run lead.
They would need all of them.
The 28-year-old Gonzalez took the mound to start the seventh with just two runs allowed, but a pair of back-to-back two-out homers from Eric Chavez and Ichiro Suzuki -- the 100th of Ichiro's career -- forced his exit after 111 pitches, with the O's leading by a run.
"I got tired toward the end," Gonzalez said. "My fastballs, instead of running away, they were cutting at the end. And these guys hit mistakes."
Reliever Darren O'Day came on to retire pinch-hitter Russell Martin and end the inning, and Pedro Strop pitched around a leadoff single in the eighth. Closer Jim Johnson -- who suffered his third blown save this season in his outing Friday -- worked around Nick Swisher's leadoff double in the ninth to record the final three outs and seal the win.
"Jimmy's got a lot going on in his gut and his heart," Showalter said following Johnson's 31st save. "I think he's grasped the life of a closer, and sometimes it happens in the eighth inning. He's competing."
So are the Orioles, who have a chance to make up ground on the Yankees over the next two days, and distance themselves from third-place Tampa Bay -- who they play this weekend -- in the process.
"They are ahead of us in our division, so every game is a full game we make up," Johnson said of a Yankees club that has won three of their last 11. "And obviously it makes a big difference in the Wild Card."
The Orioles tagged Yankees starter Freddy Garcia for three runs over six innings, managing nine hits in the process. Wilson Betemit sent Garcia's 1-1 pitch into the second deck of right-field seats to tie the score at 1 in the third, and Betemit got things started again with a leadoff infield single in the fifth. Mark Reynolds followed with a double, and a pair of sacrifice flies from Quintanilla and Markakis gave the Orioles a two-run lead.
"We were better tonight," Betemit said of the lineup. "We had great at-bats today. And great pitching today by Gonzalez, he had a tremendous game today. I just go out there and I look for a good pitch to hit, and [Garcia] threw me a slider and I hit the ball well."
Betemit picked up his 12th homer of the season while Markakis, who went 3-for-4, continued to flourish in the leadoff spot. Since returning from the disabled list July 13, Markakis is batting .364 with 13 runs scored, a homer and four RBIs.
"Nicky's not one of those guys, maybe it's just our club and our lack of egos, but where they hit in the order and whatever, they don't wear that around," Showalter said. "It's what the team needs to do. I told you before, I really got Nick's attention when I told him, 'You might get another 50 at-bats.'
He never said, 'I'm in,' or 'OK, let's do it.' He just said, 'Fine, whatever. If that's what the team needs, let's go.'"
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.