The New York Yankees once had what seemed like an insurmountable lead in the American League East. That advantage, though, is getting smaller by the day and the Baltimore Orioles hope to dwindle it even further on Friday when the division rivals begin an important three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees had a 10-lead after action on July 18, but injuries started to take a toll and they have gone 18-21 since. They enter this series just three games in front of the Orioles.
"We've got to bring it against the Orioles this weekend, for sure," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "It's a big one."
Tampa, which welcomes the Yankees after this series, also sits 4 1/2 games back.
"Obviously if we could script it any different, we wouldn't have any of our guys banged up," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "But that's kind of the way the season goes. It's a long season. There are a lot of injuries. I feel like we've dealt with that extremely well this year. No excuses, we've just got to go out there and get it done."
New York lost two of three to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the week, and fell, 8-5, in Wednesday's finale. Curtis Granderson had a two-run double and an RBI groundout for the Yankees, who have lost eight of their last 13 games.
Amazingly, they are 0-47 this season when trailing after eight innings.
"We didn't play well," said New York manager Joe Girardi. "That's the bottom line. We had chances offensively and we didn't get it done. We had chances defensively and we didn't get it done."
CC Sabathia (13-4) made his second start since returning from the disabled list and gave up five runs -- two earned -- on nine hits over seven innings.
"It���s definitely disappointing," Sabathia said. "I feel like this game is all my fault, obviously."
Heading to the hill for the Yankees on Friday will be Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who is 12-9 with a 2.98 ERA. Kuroda gave up a three-run homer in the first inning in Cleveland on Saturday and did not surrender another run in eight innings of work, but still suffered the complete-game loss.
"I didn't think he really had his good stuff most of the night, but he found a way to get people out," Girardi said.
Kuroda was brilliant in beating the Orioles earlier in the year in his only other start against them, holding them to a run in seven innings.
Baltimore continued its improbable season on Thursday, as it won another close game, beating the Chicago White Sox, 5-3. Adam Jones set a new career high with his 26th home run of the season for the Orioles, who won for the fifth time in their last six games.
Zach Britton (4-1) gave up one run on seven hits in a season-high eight innings. He struck out a career-high 10 without a walk.
Getting the call for the Orioles on Friday will be righty Miguel Gonzalez, who is 5-3 with a 3.66 ERA. Gonzalez lost for the first time in four decisions on Aug. 20 in Texas, as he allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings.
The Orioles have won six of his nine starts.
He beat the Yankees in his only other start against them back on July 30.
New York has won six of 11 from the O's this season, but Baltimore has won four of six in the Bronx.