BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles are 40 games below .500. Attendance at Camden Yards has plunged. The only active players whose names are on the jerseys of the fans who do come to the ballpark seem on the verge of being shipped out of town.
And yet here, on a Tuesday night in July when the air felt thick and hot like an electric blanket, an energetic crowd divided between Baltimore’s orange and the New York Yankees’ navy blue cheered and jeered each call as if a postseason berth were on the line.
The loudest noise the crowd made all night was in the bottom of the ninth when Jonathan Schoop gave Baltimore (26-66) a 6-5, walk-off victory over New York (59-31). Schoop had recently returned from a weekend off designed to help him shake his struggles at the plate. Now, he faced Yankees setup man Dellin Betances.
“I was thinking a lot of things [going into that at-bat],” Schoop said. “[Betances] is tough. I just wanted to get a strike and put the ball in play.”
Schoop shot a two-out, bases-loaded grounder to the right side of the infield, almost directly at Yankees first baseman Greg Bird. Orioles fans groaned at another apparent squandered opportunity by the offense. Yankees fans yelped in relief. Then the ball glanced off Bird’s glove and trickled into right field. The tones of each fan base flipped, and Bird put his head down as Schoop’s shot into the sky.
“Some of the challenges we’ve faced as a team have bothered [Schoop] as much as anybody,” Baltimore Manager Buck Showalter said. “[After the time off], Jon’s got his approach really consistent. He’s a good listener almost to a fault, because he likes to listen to people [trying] to help him.”
The Orioles were in a position to win late because of shortstop Manny Machado. In the fifth and in the seventh, the all-star starter tied the game with a home run. In the ninth, the Yankees intentionally walked Machado before Mark Trumbo struck out, bringing up Schoop.
For New York, which this week reportedly emerged as a suitor in the Machado trade market, the 26-year-old showcased his best stuff: He finished 3 for 4 with the two homers, three RBI and an array of defensive plays that helped Baltimore escape jams.
When Machado was asked whether he thinks every time he shows up at the ballpark that it might be his last game as an Oriole, he said: “It crosses my mind, not going to lie. But you try to enjoy every moment, try to enjoy the season like I have since Day 1, since I stepped in here. No one wants to think about that day.”
In the early innings Tuesday, it didn’t appear that the Orioles would need Machado’s bat, or much offense at all, to win. On the mound, right-hander Andrew Cashner entered the fifth inning with a perfect game, neutralizing Yankees bats as he always had. In five previous outings against New York, he had recorded a quality start in each.
“I had a good feel for everything, fastball, change-up, slider,” Cashner said. “Any time you play the Yankees, you got to step up.”
Cashner kept hitters off balance, locating his fastball low and away in the zone and mixing in his slider. Showalter said it was the best he had seen Cashner all season, and it seemed as if things were finally breaking right for the right-hander, who entered with a 2-9 record this year and average run support of 2.77, the lowest in baseball.
Baltimore’s offense had gotten to New York starter Masahiro Tanaka in the fourth, picking up two runs on Joey Rickard’s double before Adam Jones struck out with the bases loaded. Yet that didn’t seem to matter because Cashner appeared in control. Other than Brett Gardner’s flyout to left to open the game, he hadn’t allowed a ball leave the infield going into the fifth.
The Yankees’ first batter of that inning, slugger Giancarlo Stanton, popped out, but Didi Gregorius’s single ended Cashner’s perfect night and a walk to Miguel Andujar put him in trouble. Seconds later, Bird bashed a three-run homer to right field to put New York ahead 3-2. Machado’s two home runs — the first to left field and the second to right — each tied the game.
Then, the Orioles loaded the bases in the ninth and Schoop delivered with two outs. Baltimore did what it has struggled to do so many times this season in capitalizing on offense to collect a victory. As Machado tossed his helmet and ran over to his friend Schoop to celebrate, he realized something.
“I told a couple guys,” Machado said afterward, “I don’t remember the last time we had a walk-off.”