NEW YORK -- A series win within their grasp, the Orioles let Saturday's game slip away.
Setup man Pedro Strop struggled to find the strike zone, issuing a pair of crippling seventh-inning walks, while a much-improved O's defense saw a critical error from shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has anchored the infield with his glove all season. The result was a three-run seventh inning for the Yankees, a frustrating display that paved the way for the O's 4-3 loss in front of 46,122 at Yankee Stadium.
"That's a tough one," Strop said of the defeat, which dropped Baltimore back to three games behind the AL East-leading Yankees, while remaining in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. "Having the lead in the seventh inning, leading by two. Of course we think we can get a win. It was a tough loss, and we just got to swallow that one and come back [on Sunday]."
Gunning for their third series win in the Bronx this season -- which would mark the first time they've done that since 1976 -- the Orioles instead dropped their second game in seven contests at the new Yankee Stadium, shouldering starter Wei-Yin Chen with a hard-luck loss. The 26-year-old lefty retired the first 11 batters he faced before Robinson Cano's solo homer in the fourth, and Chen exited in favor of Strop after Eduardo Nunez's two-out RBI pulled the Yankees to within a run.
Strop, part of an exceptional bullpen that has been integral to the Orioles' success all season, loaded the bases on a five-pitch walk to Ichiro Suzuki to turn New York's lineup over. He proceeded to get ahead 0-2 on Derek Jeter, but he couldn't put him away, walking the Yankees' captain to tie the game at 3.
"I couldn't handle my sinker, it was running too much," said Strop, who threw a 3-2 slider to Jeter that went as ball four to Strop's dismay. "Maybe it was because mechanically I was off. Something happened that I'm going to find out, and fix it as soon as possible."
"He's tough to face," Jeter said of Strop, who earned his fifth win Monday against the White Sox and has pitched to a 1.86 ERA in 58 appearances. "He throws it 98, 99, and it's not straight. It's not like it's a comfortable at-bat. He threw a slider at me, 3-2, so he obviously is comfortable in all his pitches. Fortunately, it was inside a little bit."
Strop ran the count full again to the next hitter, Nick Swisher, and New York took the lead as Hardy bobbled the ball and couldn't get off a throw, allowing Nunez to score. The error was Hardy's sixth on the season, a rare sight for the O's shortstop, who entered the game leading the Majors in fielding percentage (.992) and assists (433) at his position.
Following the run, manager Buck Showalter promptly called on lefty Brian Matusz to face Cano, who ended the inning on a flyout. But the seventh-inning damage was too much, as the Orioles -- who chased starter David Phelps from the game after 4 2/3 innings -- were held scoreless their final five frames.
"It's a combination of a lot of things," catcher Matt Wieters said of the loss. "Chen threw the ball well and gave us the opportunity to win. Nunez was able to get one over the infielder's head to drive in a big run, but we didn't stretch out the lead when we had the chance. And when you give these guys some hope and some life, they're going to put some hits together."
Meanwhile, the O's weren't able to do enough damage off Phelps, who gave up a trio of runs on three hits, six walks and a hit batsman. A pair of double-play balls helped Phelps avoid a worse fate despite throwing 50 of 98 pitches for strikes.
"We had some opportunities, but we couldn't get that big two-out hit like we have in the past couple of weeks to extend our lead there," said Nate McLouth, who grounded into a double play in the first inning, scoring Nick Markakis.
Rookie Manny Machado scored Chris Davis for a one-out run in the second, and Wieters belted a solo homer to start the fourth for the O's final run.
Chen outpitched Phelps from the onset as he continued to add some stability to an uncertain rotation without the services of right-hander Jason Hammel. The lefty used just 66 pitches to get through five innings, allowing a walk to Jayson Nix as the Yanks' other baserunner to Cano over that span. He pitched around a two-out single to Swisher in the sixth inning, getting Cano to fly out to the warning track, but wasn't as lucky in the fateful seventh.
"This is the AL East, the toughest division in the league," Chen said through his interpreter. "Our bullpen has done a really great job this whole year. The only thing I can say is I didn't pitch good in the seventh inning. I couldn't get the ball down."
Former Oriole Steve Pearce delivered a one-out single -- his first hit as a Yankee -- and after a two-out walk to Nix, which started on an 0-2 count, Chen exited after Nunez's RBI base hit brought on the erratic Strop.
"That's part of Pete's success," manager Buck Showalter said of Strop's command. "It's a ride sometimes, but it usually [works out]. He's been great. He's one of the reasons why we're here. I told him when he came in the dugout, that's gutsy. ... Him and [Wieters], he's thrown that 3-2 breaking ball, and it was ball [today], but I love it.
"It's not something we're going to dwell on. We're going to move on and try to win the series tomorrow."
Added Wieters: "It would have been a nice game to win. There's no doubt about that, but it doesn't matter moving forward, what happened today. We're going to go out here and have a chance to win the series tomorrow, and that's our mindset."
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.