NEW YORK (AP) After beginning the season as a backup, Aaron Hicks has been one of the best players in the American League.
Quite a turnaround for a guy who was such a huge disappointment in his first year with the Yankees.
Hicks homered twice and rookie Jordan Montgomery pitched seven stellar innings to lead New York over the Baltimore Orioles 8-2 on Friday night.
Starlin Castro also connected for the AL East leaders in the opener of a three-game series between division foes. New York (35-23) has won three straight, outscoring rivals Boston and Baltimore 25-3 over the last three nights, to equal a season high at 12 games over .500.
''I think it's very important that we get these wins against teams that are right behind us,'' Hicks said.
Jonathan Schoop hit an early two-run homer for the third-place Orioles, who dropped 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees. Dylan Bundy (6-5) tossed six solid innings but lost for the fourth time in his past five starts.
Bundy beat Montgomery 3-2 on May 29 in Baltimore, where the Orioles took two of three from New York. But it was a different story in the latest matchup between two promising 24-year-old pitchers.
Montgomery (4-4) set a career high with eight strikeouts in the longest of his 11 major league starts. He was coming off six innings of three-hit ball in a 7-0 win at Toronto.
''I'm starting to trust myself a little more,'' Montgomery said.
Facing the Orioles for the third time, the left-hander struck out three in the first inning and pitched out of trouble in the second following Schoop's 454-foot drive into the elevated bleachers beyond Baltimore's bullpen in left-center. He retired 17 of his final 18 hitters, helped by Trey Mancini's fifth-inning lineout to drawn-in shortstop Didi Gregorius, pinning a runner at third.
''He had a nice assortment of pitches he was able to throw for strikes,'' Baltimore slugger Mark Trumbo said. ''He had a real nice breaking ball going.''
Subbing for injured center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Hicks opened the sixth with a go-ahead homer into The Judge's Chambers section at the back of the lower level of right-field seats, where fans wearing black robes rejoiced.
New York scored three unearned runs in the seventh following a throwing error by reliever Edwin Jackson.
Hicks hit a two-run shot into the second deck in right for his 10th home run, giving him 34 RBIs to go along with a .426 on-base percentage. It was his third career multihomer game and second this year.
''He continues to shine,'' manager Joe Girardi said . ''He's been huge for us.''
Hicks batted .217 with eight homers and 31 RBIs for the Yankees last year after arriving in a trade with Minnesota for reserve catcher John Ryan Murphy, who began the day hitting .204 in Triple-A.
''It feels really good to be able to get off to a hot start, and I want to keep it going,'' Hicks said. ''Especially since last season I got myself in a hole.''
Aaron Judge scored from first with a headfirst slide on Matt Holliday's double off the left-center fence. Austin Romine added a two-run single in the eighth.
SHUTTING THE DOOR
New York has gone eight straight games without allowing a hit with a runner in scoring position. That's the longest streak in the majors since St. Louis went nine games in August 2007. Yankees pitchers have held opponents hitless in their past 42 at-bats with RISP, the best string for any team since Tampa Bay (0 for 42) in 2010.
Orioles: RHP Darren O'Day was placed on the 10-day DL, retroactive to Wednesday, with a right shoulder strain. RHP Stefan Crichton was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk. ... All-Star 3B Manny Machado sat out for the second consecutive game. He injured his left hand and wrist when he was spiked by Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen on a double steal Wednesday. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said Machado was feeling a little better but still a bit sore. Showalter said the team will soon need to decide whether to put Machado on the DL. ... Orioles C Welington Castillo went 0 for 3 in a rehab game for Double-A Bowie at Trenton and is expected to be activated Saturday. Castillo has been on the 10-day DL since May 31 with a testicular injury.
Yankees: All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman is scheduled to throw a simulated game Saturday morning at the team's complex in Tampa, Florida. Chapman said he expects a one-game minor league rehab assignment to follow, and he'll probably rejoin the Yankees on the West Coast in about a week. He has been sidelined since May 13 with rotator cuff inflammation in his left shoulder. ... 1B Greg Bird (bruised right ankle) went 0 for 5 in his second game for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre since his rehab assignment was moved from Class A Tampa.
Orioles RHP Chris Tillman (1-3, 5.59 ERA) pitches Saturday night against RHP Luis Severino (4-2, 2.90), who is 2-0 with a 2.02 ERA in his past six starts. Tillman is 0-3 in five outings since winning his season debut May 7 against the Chicago White Sox. He has lost his last three starts and was hit hard by the Yankees on May 30 in Baltimore, allowing five runs and seven hits - three homers - in 2 2/3 innings.
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