BALTIMORE -- Preparing to make his first start in nearly a month, Sonny Gray (Pickles) huddled with catcher Austin Romine (Ro) early on Saturday, voicing an intention to fill the zone with his fastball, slider and splitter. Those pitches kept the Orioles' aggressive lineup flailing, but the Yankees right-hander's most
BALTIMORE -- Preparing to make his first start in nearly a month, Sonny Gray (Pickles) huddled with catcher Austin Romine (Ro) early on Saturday, voicing an intention to fill the zone with his fastball, slider and splitter. Those pitches kept the Orioles' aggressive lineup flailing, but the Yankees right-hander's most important weapon might be his rediscovered confidence.
A pair of excellent starting-pitching performances propelled the Yankees to a doubleheader sweep of the Orioles on Saturday, as Gray fired 6 1/3 scoreless innings to follow J.A. Happ's (Happer) winning afternoon effort. In a high point of what has been a trying campaign, Gray exited to a warm ovation as he departed New York's 5-1 nightcap victory at Camden Yards.
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"If I can go out and throw the ball like that, I think I can get anybody out," Gray said. "I know I can get anybody out. I mean, I'm one of the best starting pitchers in this league and I truly believe that. I think it's that belief that'll continue to keep me moving forward and hopefully continue to have success from here on out."
Making his first start since Aug. 1, Gray cruised against the cellar-dwelling Birds, needing 79 pitches to work into the seventh inning while scattering three hits and striking out seven. Gray departed after issuing his only walk, bouncing excitedly after being cheered by the largely pro-Yankees crowd of 26,236.
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With Happ's outing in the 10-3 Game 1 win, it sealed a day in which Yankees starters combined to permit two runs over 12 1/3 innings, moving within seven games of the division-leading Red Sox. New York's lead for the first American League Wild Card is 4 1/2 games over Oakland.
"He's been great for us," Aaron Hicks (Hicksie) said of Happ. "He's been a guy that has eaten up innings for us and he has been doing great. I love that he's here on our team. He's helping us get to where we want to be."
The effort marked Gray's deepest since going 6 2/3 innings June 23 in a loss at Tampa Bay. Although Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Gray would probably return to the bullpen, he added that Gray's role could continue to evolve, noting that he has been used effectively in extra-inning games, for length and now as a spot starter.
"I think I've grown a lot in this last month as a pitcher and as a person, just being in the bullpen," Gray said. "There's really nowhere to go. You're down there and I get to talk pitching with some of the best pitchers in the game, their mindsets and everything that goes into it. It's different being in the bullpen and I know ultimately I want to be a starter in this league, but I've learned a lot down there, for sure."
After belting four homers in the first game, the Yankees struck quickly against Andrew Cashner (Cash) in Game 2. The first three batters reached base to produce an instant lead, with Hicks continuing his productive day with a run-scoring hit, following a 3-for-5 showing in the first game.
In the second inning, Gleyber Torres (GT) dashed home on a wild pitch before Brett Gardner knocked in a run on a fielder's choice. Giancarlo Stanton (G) dented the right-field wall with a long RBI single in the fourth off Cashner, who allowed four runs (three earned) over seven innings while absorbing his 12th loss.
Romine tacked on with a solo homer in the ninth inning off Miguel Castro (Villa Hermosa). Jace Peterson (Petey) knocked an RBI single off Tommy Kahnle in the ninth to break up the shutout, creating a one-out save for Dellin Betances (El Acido). It was the Yankees' first doubleheader sweep of the season, having split each of their previous three twin bills.
"We're in a tough stretch right now," Boone said. "We're beat up and guys are just grinding away. To get a couple of wins today, it's huge for us. Hopefully we can finish off a great series tomorrow."
• With their 82nd victory, the Yankees have clinched their 26th straight winning season, extending the second-longest streak in Major League history. The record is 39, achieved by the 1926-64 Yankees. In the four major American pro sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL), only the NHL's Montreal Canadiens (32, 1952-83) and Boston Bruins (29, 1968-96) have exceeded the Yankees' current accomplishment.
• Gray has made four starts with the Yankees at Camden Yards, winning each outing while compiling a 0.38 ERA in 24 innings. He has also won both of his starts on Players' Weekend, having bested the Mariners last Aug. 26 at Yankee Stadium.
HE SAID IT
"It sounded like a home crowd, for sure. That was nice. That was really nice." -- Gray, on the fans' ovation
The Yankees conclude their weekend visit to Baltimore on Sunday evening, seeking a four-game sweep of the Orioles in a nationally televised 8:05 p.m. ET contest. Right-hander Luis Severino (Sevy) will make the start for New York, coming in tied for the Major League lead in wins (16) with the Nationals' Max Scherzer and the Indians' Corey Kluber. Right-hander Dylan Bundy (Dilly) will start for the O's.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.