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CWS@BAL: Chen strikes out eight in six strong frames

Regardless of whether the Orioles complete their comeback in the American League East, and regardless of whether they secure one of the two Wild Card spots, playoff baseball arrived in Baltimore on Thursday and likely will remain for at least the remainder of a four-game series with the Yankees.

It came in the form of 46,298 clad in orange at Camden Yards, where the Orioles took the first of four games against New York to reclaim a share of the AL East lead. And while the added incentive of the unveiling of a Cal Ripken Jr. statue likely bolstered the attendance, it continued to feel like the Ripken-led teams of the late 1990s that continuously competed with the Yankees, and won the division once in '97, well after first pitch.

"This team has a strong history," said manager Joe Girardi, who added the Orioles were "definitely" New York's biggest rival when he played in pinstripes from '96-99. "I had a chance to play against them when they were really good in the '90s. It's great. [On Thursday], I understand it's standing-room only. They're almost sold out every day. It's a great thing for the organization and baseball."

But it's bad news for the Yanks, who lost three of their last four games against the O's as their division lead shrank from as many as 10 games to a tie with Baltimore entering Friday's matchup.

Friday starter Phil Hughes was on the mound for one of those losses -- Sunday at Yankee Stadium -- and Baltimore chased him after scoring five runs in five innings courtesy of two home runs from Mark Reynolds, who went deep twice again in Thursday's 10-6 win to give him eight in the past seven games. Wei-Yin Chen, Hughes' counterpart, started the lone O's loss, cruising until he departed with two out in a three-run seventh, which saw the Yankees rally for one of their three wins in the past 10 games.

But Girardi insists his clubhouse remains even-keeled, even with its struggles and the playoff atmosphere that overtook Camden Yards, and figures to remain the next three days.

"You hope the experience will keep things consistent," Girardi said. "They go about their work. They prepare. They're ready to go. And that's what I've seen from this team."

Yankees: Tex still targeting weekend return
First baseman Mark Teixeira felt some tightness in his left calf after running the outfield at Camden Yards before Thursday's series opener, but he is still targeting a return in one of the three remaining games in Baltimore, and believes it could be as early as Friday.

The Annapolis, Md., native ran 10 to 12 sprints close to full speed for the first time since Aug. 27, when he left a game against Toronto after four innings with a Grade 1 calf strain. Thursday marked the 10th day since the injury, the minimum Teixeira expected to miss.

Girardi previously said that a setback would likely prevent Teixeira, who also battled a sore wrist this year, from returning before the end of the season. But New York's race with Baltimore makes it all the more difficult for the Yankees to play without their switch-hitting power threat in the middle of the order.

"Obviously if we're up 10 games, I'm probably going to take that extra day or two," Teixeira said. "When we're fighting right now for the lead, I'm going to try to come back as quickly as possible. This is the way it is. I want to be out there really badly right now."

Orioles: Showalter expects Tillman to return early next week
The O's expect doctors to clear Chris Tillman to throw Friday or Saturday, and manager Buck Showalter figures to slot the right-hander back into the rotation some time after Monday's day off.

Tillman left his start Sunday in New York after three innings with right elbow discomfort, but a Thursday MRI revealed a strong elbow ligament, particularly for a Major League starter.

If Tillman is not able to pitch early next week in Baltimore's series against Tampa Bay, Jake Arrieta could fill his spot in the rotation. Arrieta's season with Triple-A Norfolk ended Monday, and the Orioles will activate him before Friday's game.

Worth noting
• Thursday's attendance of 46,298 tied a June 23 matchup with Washington for the third-largest crowd at Camden Yards this season. The only larger ones came on Opening Day against Minnesota (46,773) and June 9 against Philadelphia (46,611).

• An RBI double in the eighth inning Thursday extended Alex Rodriguez's hitting streak to 10 games -- six before his stint on the disabled list with a fractured left hand and four since he returned. Rodriguez is hitting .333 (13-for-39) in that stretch with four doubles, one home run, seven runs scored and five RBIs.

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