It is not so much what the resurgent Baltimore Orioles have done but what the New York Yankees have not that is making a race out of the American League East.
The Orioles showed they may stay in it for the long haul, coming into New York – a place they never win – and very nearly walking out with a three-game sweep and a tie for first place.
"They're playing good, they have a good team," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said Sunday, after Baltimore's 8-3 victory allowed the Orioles to win the three-game series at Yankee Stadium. "They pitched, they hit, they beat us.
"We didn't play well and they played better than us the past three games."
Everyone knows the Yankees are playing with a short hand right now.
That's no excuse for leaning on minor league call-up Chris Dickerson, who celebrated his promotion from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over the weekend by drilling a two-run homer in his first at-bat of the season for New York and then scoring the team's only other run.
"You want to get that first hit," Dickerson said. "To get that home run puts you much more at ease."
The major league debut for Justin Thomas looked easy enough, as the lefty struck out the only batter he faced Sunday after also being called up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And Dickerson added a nice over-the-shoulder catch while playing center field, then added a spectacular one by robbing a two-run homer from Andruw Jones.
"We thought that was going to spark us," Dickerson said, "that we'd come back."
Instead, the Yankees took a step back.
They lost three home series' to the Orioles for the first time since 1976, fell to 7-7 against Baltimore for the season and are just 3-6 against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium – as many losses against Baltimore there as the Yanks suffered during the three previous seasons combined.
"Hopefully, it's a sign we're becoming a little better," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "They've been the measuring stick for a long time."
Granted, a lot of that is a credit to the much-improved Orioles and their new never-give-up attitude under former Yankees manager Showalter.
How confident are the Orioles right now?
They came into New York wearing T-shirts that read "Buck the Yankees."
"I think we're the best team that nobody talks about," said former Phillies starting pitcher Randy Wolf, who just signed with Baltimore on Friday and picked up Sunday's victory out of the bullpen. "When you hit September and you're in a playoff hunt, that's what makes baseball so much fun."
It's not a lot of fun for the Yankees these days.
In the span of two weeks, they lost stars Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson from a lineup that had been missing Alex Rodriguez, and lost comfort as their lead at the top of the AL East shrunk from five games to just two.
"We're two games up two games into September," Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher snapped, before that lead fell to a single game after Monday's action. "We get our guys back, we'll be right back on the ball."
The Yankees can't count on that. Only a three-run rally in Saturday's seventh inning saved them from being swept and kept the Yankees alone at the top.
"It doesn't make a difference who's hurt," Jeter said. "We have to win by ourselves. We can't sit around waiting for guys to get back."
Because as this weekend showed, a bunch of guys in Baltimore aren't waiting for success anymore.
Paul Sokoloski is a Times Leader sports columnist. You may reach him at 970-7109 or email him at [email protected].