BALTIMORE — As the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline draws near, each day seems to deliver a new urgency for Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman.
The idea of hunting for reinforcements might seem like an extravagance for a team that is on pace to win 107 games, except for the fact that all the Yankees’ success would earn them at the moment is a one-game playoff to keep their World Series pursuit alive.
As formidable as the Yankees have looked, the Boston Red Sox have been better. And so, if the Yankees’ 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night did little to diminish their need for starting pitching — or their interest in Manny Machado, who slugged two home runs — the need to improve was underscored by the Red Sox’ rolling to their eighth win in a row.
The defeat, which dropped the Yankees to three and a half games behind the Red Sox, was cemented when Jonathan Schoop smoked a two-out, bases-loaded single off first baseman Greg Bird’s glove in the bottom of the ninth. It was the second day in a row that the Yankees could not hold a lead against the Orioles, who began the day 37½ games out of first place.
The winning hit came off Dellin Betances, and the one that gave up the lead — a two-run homer by Machado just over the outstretched glove of leaping right-fielder Aaron Judge — was surrendered by Chad Green; both relievers had been all but impregnable over the last month.
But Masahiro Tanaka’s performance in his return from a monthlong stint on the disabled list with a pair of strained hamstrings did little to boost confidence in the rotation, and Machado’s two homers were a tantalizing reminder that if there aren’t any difference-making starting pitchers on the market, the Yankees may want to try another approach.
If the Yankees do not add Machado, they can at least hope for an improved offense from a return to health by Gary Sanchez after the All-Star break and a return to form by Bird, who hit a three-run homer and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly.
But Bird was ruing the moment he could not deliver, when he was shielded slightly by Machado, the base runner at first, and watched helplessly as the ball ticked off his glove and into right field.
“It’s just a play I want to make — that’s the way I’d classify it,” Bird said. “He put a decent swing on it and it just kind of rode up. I just didn’t get it up in time.”
The Yankees had few opportunities against Andrew Cashner, who retired the first 13 batters he faced, but made the most of them. Didi Gregorius lined a one-out single to left to break up his perfect game in the fifth inning before the Yankees caught a break. As right fielder Joey Rickard made a diving catch of Miguel Andujar’s pop foul down the line, Schoop, the second baseman, inadvertently kicked Rickard’s glove off and the ball popped loose.
Given the reprieve, Andujar drew a walk with the next pitch.
That brought up Bird, who sized up a 2-2 fastball from Cashner that ran over the inside part of the plate and clubbed it far above the right-field scoreboard. With one swing the Yankees had the lead.
It did not last long. Machado blasted the first pitch of the fifth inning from Tanaka far enough into the seats that left fielder Brett Gardner took two steps before giving up his chase.
“That first pitch to Machado — you can’t do that,” Tanaka said. “I have no excuse for that.”
One at-bat later — a line drive by Mark Trumbo that landed in the glove of Gregorius at short — and Tanaka was finished.
He was right at the prescribed 80 pitches that Manager Aaron Boone said would be the rough gauge for Tanaka in his return from the disabled list.
It was a solid effort, if not a heartening one.
Tanaka stranded a runner at third in the second and the bases loaded in the fourth. But Schoop missed a home run by inches when his drive hit off the top of the left-field wall and bounced back, and the two runs Tanaka allowed on Rickard’s double came after he retired the first two batters in the fourth.
Boone had hoped that Tanaka’s return would bolster the rotation — which had already lost Jordan Montgomery for the season — and that the break would benefit him later in the season.
“Tanaka coming back is going to be huge for us,” Boone said on Monday. “I look at it as hopefully this little break in the action for him not only heals up the injuries that he was dealing with but also hopefully — in a sense — saves some bullets a little bit and kind of freshen him up, a little less wear and tear on the arm. Maybe four weeks down in the middle of the season — maybe not the end of the world.”
Still, the best performances by a Yankees pitcher this week have come from Domingo German and Luis Cessa, who have much to do to be factors in October.
At the moment, Jonathan Loaisiga, who showed great promise in several cameos, is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. C.C. Sabathia, who could not hold a three-run lead on Monday, can rarely be counted on to deliver much more than five innings, and Sonny Gray, who had lasted a total of four and one-third innings in his last two starts, is due up Wednesday.
Gray, who has a 5.85 E.R.A. and has failed to last five innings in seven of his 17 starts, said he has worked his way out of ruts in Oakland, where he was traded from last July.
“I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m not going to hold my head down,” Gray said. “I’m going to walk around with my head up high and I’m going to figure it out. That’s just kind of how I go about things — not only baseball, but things in life. I’m going to keep working until I figure it out.”
The same might be said for Cashman.