By Joe Lemire
September 09, 2012

BALTIMORE -- If runs are said to be manufactured, then a batting order is a type of assembly line.

Depending on the product, varying numbers of employees are engaged in its creation, and no company is so reliant on one-man projects as the Yankees, who have scored just shy of half their runs this year via home runs.

But on Sunday afternoon New York cycled through the whole line in a 10-batter, four-run fourth inning to reclaim sole possession of first place in the AL East with a 13-3 victory over the Orioles.

"Keep the line moving," Yankees leftfielder Raul Ibañez said. "That's one thing this team does really well. Walk, see a lot of pitches and eventually things will turn around."

Wildness from Baltimore starter Zach Britton and patience from the New York lineup led to four walks and three singles in that fourth frame, extending the lead from 1-0 to 5-0. The Yankees saw 45 pitches in that inning alone and completed the difficult endeavor of plating four runs without an extra-base hit.

Centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who did not start against the lefthander and who entered mired in a 6-for-48 slump, was getting loose for a possible pinch-hit appearance during the fourth inning and on the clubhouse television was able to study his teammates' approach very carefully.

"The amazing thing to watch in that situation was how the opposing pitcher was trying to get us out, trying to throw sinkers down in the zone to get us to roll over some pitches for a double play," Granderson said. "But the pitches were just enough out of the zone, and the hitters did a great job being disciplined at not chasing them. Next thing you know, three walks and then a hit."

This, of course, is not a new philosophy for the Yankees and, indeed, is the same offensive approach they've bandied down the batting order for years. Such a foundation is supposed to help curtail slumps and losing streaks.

But as the losses have piled up (a 10-game lead in July had been erased) and the club's trademark success at reaching base had dissipated (its on-base percentage is .331, its worst in 20 years), the offense came under increasing scrutiny that all it could was hit home runs (210, most in the majors, accounting for 48.6 percent of its runs).

Sure, the Yankees also hit two homers -- one each by Granderson, who did pinch-hit in the sixth, and by Derek Jeter -- but the three runs those blasts accounted for weren't critical in determining the outcome. Granderson went 3-for-3, missing a cycle only by a triple, despite entering in the sixth inning.

Such a rout couldn't have come at a better time for the Yankees, who were playing their closest competitor for the final time this season after having started the season series only 8-9.

Also, the club is reeling from a brutal loss on Saturday night when first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was making his return after missing 10 games with a calf injury, re-injured himself trying to beat a ninth-inning groundball that could have tied the game, except that he was incorrectly called out. And then, after the game, manager Joe Girardi and a New York columnist had a heated exchange until team security cooled things down.

Most pertinently, the Yankees simply hadn't been playing well for more than three weeks. Since winning the first three games of a series against the Rangers Aug. 13-15, the Yankees haven't won consecutive games since, a 22-day dry spell in which their divisional lead shrank from six games to none.

"Everyone gets upset, but there's no panic," Ibañez said of the mostly veteran roster. "We have another game tomorrow. Let's go get 'em tomorrow."

In the wake of lessening confidence in the rotation, such offensive output was necessary. For the Yankees to stave off the Orioles and Rays -- both within two games of first -- they're going to need to continue putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

Ace CC Sabathia, who has twice been on the disabled list, is pitching with reduced velocity and has blown early leads in several recent starts. Freddy Garcia has struggled to go deep in games, lasting only 3 1/3 innings on Sunday. Ivan Nova was only activated from the DL on Saturday, and Andy Pettitte still resides there, his future contributions uncertain while returning from a leg fracture and without having seen game action in rehab.

"We're going to have to pitch better, that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "Sometimes the hitters have to pick them up."

In four games against the Orioles, the Yankees' offense scored 31 runs -- eclipsing their total from the previous eight games -- while smacking 43 hits and drawing 18 walks.

With the series split, New York held onto its one-game lead while shaving four games off the remaining schedule.

"It's all you need at the end, too," Girardi said.

Only 22 games remain. The AL East hangs in the balance.

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