But Baltimore's temporary jump to the top of the division did enough to prompt a team meeting for New York prior to Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Rays, which prevented a sweep and allowed the Yankees to reclaim sole possession of first place in the division. Manager Joe Girardi said the club discussed the final stretch of the season, with the next four games coming against the second-place Orioles at Camden Yards.
While a 10-game lead and comfort the Yankees once had atop the division is gone, they welcome the challenge.
"This is what you think about as little kids," Girardi said. "You imagine in your head about playing in important games in the backyard, and you think about it coming up through the Minor Leagues, that you want to be in this situation. It's exciting."
The Orioles got the best of the Yankees last weekend in the Bronx, taking two of three to make their intent known. Thursday's starter, David Phelps, started the Yankees' lone win in that series, although he lasted only 4 2/3 innings as New York rallied in the seventh to prevail.
The rookie right-hander acknowledged that start was the biggest of the seven he's made in his career, and he felt the pressure in the early innings, attempting to do too much as he struggled with location and allowed Baltimore to build a lead.
But Phelps at least now knows what to expect in games between the AL East's best. Jason Hammel will return from right knee surgery that forced him to the disabled list for nearly two months, making his first start since July 13. At that point, the Orioles were eight games behind New York.
The O's made sure Hammel had a rehab start with Class A Advanced Frederick -- he threw five scoreless innings, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out seven -- before asking him to return to a pennant race, which he was last a part of in 2009 with the Rockies.
"This is another level," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "He's been out of this for a while."
Yankees: Pettitte takes another step forward
The Orioles will not have to worry about facing Andy Pettitte this weekend, but the veteran left-hander cleared another hurdle on Wednesday, when he pushed off his fractured left ankle and threw 15 pitches in a simulated game.
Pettitte will likely pitch under similar conditions this weekend at Camden Yards, attempting to simulate the entirety of his rehab work because there are so few Minor League games in which to appear during September. Pettitte's biggest concern is no longer his ankle, but his stamina, with conditioning limited to riding a stationary bike during his rehab.
"We will add him when we feel he can contribute to our efforts at this level," said general manager Brian Cashman. "I can't give you that date yet. Obviously, today, he's not ready to do that, but today was an important day to get us closer to that date."
Orioles: Reynolds remains at heart of surge
Mark Reynolds played well throughout August, but his hot hitting reached another level last weekend at Yankee Stadium and continued in Toronto.
Over the past six games, Reynolds is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with six home runs, 13 RBIs and eight runs scored. He hit two homers in each of Baltimore's two wins last weekend at Yankee Stadium, and he went deep in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
Still, Reynolds' average for the season is only .235, a product of his quiet start to his second year in Baltimore.
"There are going to be some periods where he is going to be very productive," Showalter said. "I think he knows ... the offense doesn't rest on his shoulders."
The Orioles will unveil a sculpture of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. prior to Thursday's series opener at Camden Yards. It is one of six sculptures the club is celebrating this season and comes on the 17-year anniversary of the day Ripken passed Lou Gehrig by playing in a Major League-record 2,131st consecutive game, becoming baseball's "Iron Man."
With the Yankees at Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium will host a pair of Madonna concerts on Thursday and Saturday. Previously this season, Roger Waters performed in the Bronx.