Clay Holmes logs five-out save in Yankees’ win over Orioles

Clay Holmes logs five-out save in Yankees’ win over Orioles
Clay Holmes logs five-out save in Yankees’ win over Orioles

BALTIMORE – The bullpen gate swung open in the eighth inning for Clay Holmes on Wednesday evening, and as the Yankees closer trotted across the outfield grass, he remembered wondering if this would be a two-out appearance. His team had other plans: this was the ballgame.

Holmes answered the call with filthy stuff, striking out Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman to extinguish an eighth-inning fire, then worked the ninth for his American League-leading 10th save. The Yankees held on, posting a 2-0 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards.

“We were all ready to get into that game,” Holmes said. “It was just a fun game to be a part of. “I think everybody down there wanted to get into it and contribute any way we could.”

The Yankees (20-12) became the first AL team to reach 20 victories this season, moving New York back into a virtual tie for first place in the division. Holmes has played a key role.

The 31-year-old has yet to allow an earned run across 15 innings, striking out 16 against just one walk. Holmes’ sinker-slider combination looked more devastating than usual as he attempted to silence the top of the Baltimore order.

“Clay is off to a great start this year, throwing the ball incredibly well,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Tonight, I thought his stuff was really sharp. It had a little extra to it tonight, but also commanding it really well.”

In the ninth, Holmes permitted an infield hit to Ryan O’Hearn, then struck out Ryan Mountcastle before getting Colton Cowser to hit into a soft fielder’s choice. Holmes sealed the victory by retiring Jordan Westburg on a ground ball to third base.

“Clay Holmes, that’s about as nasty as it gets,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “You’re throwing 97 mph bowling balls with a slider; “it’s going to be tough to score against.”

Holmes’ longest appearance of the season preserved the win for Yankees starter Luis Gil, who tossed a career-high 6 1/3 innings to outpitch O’s ace Corbin Burnes in the best outing of the right-hander’s young career thus far.

Oswaldo Cabrera cracked a two-run homer in the fifth inning off Burnes, providing Gil with all the support he would need. Cabrera’s liner wedged into a fence down the right-field line, providing the umpires with evidence that he had landed in fair territory.

“I knew that I hit it really well, but I didn’t know where the ball was,” Cabrera said. “If you see me running to first, I was like, ‘Where is the ball?’ When I saw the ball by the foul pole, it was great.”

Bouncing back from a rough start against the Brewers, Gil kept an athletic and aggressive Baltimore lineup off the basepaths, allowing only two singles and a walk.

“I knew this game would be special for him, because he was so serious on the bus,” Cabrera said. “When I stepped on the bus and I saw that guy just concentrating, in my mind, I was like, ‘Watch out.’”

The O’s did not have a runner in scoring position against Gil, who struck out five while throwing 95 pitches (58 for strikes).

“It doesn’t matter who you’re facing,” Gil said through an interpreter. “Once you’re locked in and you’re concentrating on what you want to do, that’s really it. The level of concentration for me has to be high. It’s really important.”

Caleb Ferguson struck out both batters he faced in the seventh, and after Ian Hamilton allowed two men to reach in the eighth, the call was made for Holmes.

“That’s the game right there,” Boone said. “If the eighth inning got long and we’ve got to go with someone else in the ninth, so be it.”

Holmes ensured they didn’t. As he continues to author his best season, Holmes — a potential free agent — said that his stride down the mound has felt synced with his arm action, which has kept opponents pounding his pitches into the turf.

“That’s just got my sinker in a good spot,” Holmes said. “The direction is good, and I can trust that the sinker is going to do what it’s going to do. If the sinker is there, typically the arm is out front and the slider comes with it. “That’s been the case so far.”

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