NEW YORK -- For the second consecutive game, Baltimore faced a multirun first-inning deficit against the Yankees. Only this time there were no offensive heroics or battling pitching performances to speak of.
Instead, Wednesday's 12-3 series-finale loss left lingering questions surrounding 24-year-old Zach Britton, who recorded just eight outs as the Orioles were denied what would have been their first three-game series sweep in the Bronx since 1986.
The loss dropped Baltimore (55-50) back to 6 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Yankees and snapped a three-game win streak. It also ensured the Orioles won't make up any ground in a close AL Wild Card race that had them two games back entering the day.
"We're in the hunt, and I understand what I have to do to be at this level, and I'm not getting it done right now," said Britton (1-1, 8.35 ERA) when asked if he was worried about being on a short leash.
"So, I got to either do something, or somebody else is going to come up and find a way to do the job. And that's the way it should be. And I understand that. I've been kind of in this situation before, and I go to do something about it and start earning my keep."
Britton might have better luck away from Yankee Stadium, a venue that is fast becoming a House of Horrors in his first two big league seasons. Following a night in which starter Chris Tillman rebounded from a five-run first to last five innings, Britton couldn't get back on track after early struggles.
Instead, the lefty surrendered a pair of runs in an 18-pitch first inning and threw 41 pitches in the second as New York increased its lead to 4. Britton issued a pair of one-out walks to Russell Martin and Casey McGehee in the third, exiting after Jayson Nix's RBI ground-rule double.
"He's not going to ambush anybody with what he tries to do," manager Buck Showalter said of Britton, who pitched off of his sinker. "When he's got command of the secondary pitch, it makes them be a lot more aggressive. And he really never got in a rhythm where they had to think about anything being a strike other than something centered up. He had to really elevate the ball some. He spiked a lot of sinkers."
Orioles reliever Kevin Gregg -- who was charged with four runs over 1 1/3 innings -- allowed a two-run single to Derek Jeter, upping Britton's line to a career-high seven earned runs in the process. Britton was charged with seven hits and three walks in the 80-pitch outing, marking the third time in four starts for the Orioles he's been unable to record a quality start.
Asked if he felt he was being too tentative, a problem he admitted he has struggled with before, Britton said: "I think [I'm] just overthinking things a little bit rather than just being aggressive with my stuff right now."
Since being recalled from Triple-A on July 17, Britton -- who led the Orioles with 11 wins in his rookie season a year ago -- is 1-1 with a 8.35 ERA, having allowed 17 earned runs on 23 hits and 14 walks over 18 1/3 innings. In three career starts in New York, Britton has totaled just eight innings, giving up 20 runs (17 earned).
The Orioles' offense didn't do much to help matters. A night removed from an 11-run assault, the lineup fell back into a familiar pattern in struggling with runners in scoring position. The team went 0-for-15 in those situations and mustered up just one run on Yankees starter Phil Hughes despite nine hits and a pair of walks.
"I could almost pitch in that kind of lead," center fielder Adam Jones said of Hughes going on cruise control. "I might give up five or six. You give the guy a huge lead with a team like that. They got their hits with men in scoring position."
Shortstop J.J. Hardy connected for his 15th homer of the year with a seventh-inning shot off reliever Joba Chamberlain -- making his first appearance of the year -- and the Orioles added another run off Chamberlain in the eighth. But it was too little, too late for the O's, who left 10 men on base in the first eight innings.
"We still have a lot of baseball, and you still need to control your own destiny in a sense, because you're going to play teams in your division," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of his club snapping a four-game losing streak with the win. "Anytime you can widen your lead, it's important."
At this point of the season, every game is, as the Orioles head to division-rival Tampa Bay for a three-game series that starts Friday.
"It was nice to come back, obviously, yesterday," Hardy said. "Could we have done that today? Possibly, but it's tough. It was an ugly loss for us. We'll try and forget about it, look at it like we won the series. We've got a big series in Tampa."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.