The Yankees leapfrogged the Orioles on Saturday to take a half-game lead for third place in the American League East and gaining the same edge on Baltimore in the AL Wild Card race, slowly working up the division and Wild Card standings.
But Sunday marks the first day of September, the final stretch run, no time for postseason hopefuls to be losing ground after every step forward. So the Yankees will have to hold off the Orioles in the series finale at Yankee Stadium and complete the three-game sweep to maintain their playoff-chasing momentum entering the final month of the season.
Having won two in a row and 15 of 22 since Aug. 9, New York will send lefty Andy Pettitte to the mound, while Baltimore will counter with southpaw Wei-Yin Chen.
This will be a big start for Chen, and not just because he's coming off his worst outing as an Oriole. He gave up eight runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings in Boston on Tuesday before Baltimore optioned him to the Gulf Coast League for a few days.
"It seemed like every time Wei-Yin made a mistake, he paid for it," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday. "He jerked some balls across the plate and left some out over there where he usually doesn't do it."
A loss would not only further discourage Chen, but it would prolong a rough stretch for the Orioles, who have dropped four of their last five and 12 of 20. Despite an 18-20 record since the All-Star break, Baltimore has now spent only two days in fourth place this season.
Pettitte, meanwhile, is coming off one of his best starts of the year. The veteran lefty threw seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, the first time this season he didn't allow a run in a start.
"He was really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday. "He went through the lineup with not too many pitches the first time. He got some big outs when he had to. I thought he was sharp."
Since a disastrous start against the White Sox on Aug. 5, when he gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings, Pettitte has permitted only two earned runs in 24 innings.
Orioles: Morse eager to join playoff race
Outfielder Michael Morse, acquired from the Mariners in a waiver-claim trade on Friday, reported to Yankee Stadium on Saturday, officially taking a spot on Baltimore's roster. Morse, 31, hit just .226/.283/.410 in 76 games with Seattle this season, but he posted a combined .294/.343/.514 line with 67 homers and 208 RBIs over the previous four seasons with Washington.
"I look at it as, 'I turn the page of what was going on over there,'" Morse said, "and I get to start fresh here and help this team get to the playoffs."
"He's pretty excited about being here," added Showalter. "He was kidding about some of our guys. When they were in our place, he had heard a lot of talk about our interest in him. He said it's been a long wait."
• Morse took the roster spot of Steve Pearce, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday for the second time this season due to a nagging left wrist injury. Pearce, who missed more than a month earlier this year, said the injury has been "very frustrating" and "probably something I'm going to have to address in the future."
Yankees: Bullpen shutting down opponents
Ivan Nova's three-hit shutout Saturday gave New York's relievers a day off, but they certainly earned it with their performance in August. The Yankees' bullpen has posted a Major League-best 1.05 ERA since Aug. 16, allowing only five runs over 42 2/3 innings.
Overall this season, the Yankees' relief corps owns a 3.19 ERA.
"We rely on our bullpen a lot. We try to move the ball around. We've had a lot of guys who have continued to have good years down there," Girardi said. "You can start with [Mariano Rivera] then just kind of work your way back. We've gotten contributions from a lot of different guys."
• Alex Rodriguez was a late scratch from the Yankees' lineup on Saturday with flu-like symptoms. He was originally slated to play third base and bat fifth in New York's lineup, but the Yankees announced the change approximately 45 minutes before first pitch.
• The Yankees will face four straight left-handed starters beginning on Sunday. They are 25-18 against lefty starters this season, including 15-7 at home.
• Orioles catcher Matt Wieters snapped an 0-for-19 skid with a second-inning single Saturday afternoon, but he's still just 1-for-22 dating back to Aug. 24, with his average falling from .237 to .227 during that stretch.