The Orioles' success of last year earned them a spot on the national stage at Yankee Stadium, the team's first nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball game since 2008.
Being the only game on the schedule at that time, the baseball world was watching. But the spotlight did nothing to warm the Orioles' bats, which went cold in a 3-0 loss to the Yankees on a chilly night in the Bronx.
In their first game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball since the last game at the old Yankee Stadium five seasons ago, the Orioles managed just five hits — all singles — against Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who recorded the first complete-game shutout against Baltimore since the Mets' R.A. Dickey tossed a one-hit complete game shutout last June.
Kuroda's complete-game shutout was also the first against the Orioles in the Bronx since Mike Mussina threw one on Sept. 28, 2001.
The 38-year-old Kuroda made easy work of the Orioles — the game lasted just two hours and 38 minutes — not allowing a runner to reach second base until the ninth inning. He struck out five and walked none and was also aided by two inning-ending double-play balls.
“[There] wasn't much margin for error,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He had a good slider working, late life on the fastball. He just worked both sides of the plate. That's pretty much the way pitchers have success. That's the way he did it tonight.”
The Orioles had an opportunity to take their fourth straight series at Yankee Stadium, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in nearly 36 years, when Baltimore took four straight from May 14, 1976 to May 22, 1977.
But instead, the Orioles (6-6) had to settle for a 3-3 road trip through Boston and New York as they headed home for a 10-game homestand that begins Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
“Think it was a good first road trip,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “Obviously there were some games we would have liked to have back, but to start off in these conditions and come in and split the series on the road, I think it's definitely positive.”
Kuroda attacked with precision, throwing 19 first-pitch strikes to the 25 batters he faced through his first seven innings of work, including five first-pitch outs by the Orioles. He threw 22 of 32 first-pitch strikes for the game.
“It seemed like every time we had a guy up to the plate, he was getting ahead with strike one,” Davis said. “He was throwing his off speed for strikes, mixing his fastball. He was tough to hit tonight. Seemed like everything he threw up there was a strike. And when a guy is that dominant, he's tough to beat.”
The night ended in heartbreak for Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who hasn't won a regular-season game since last Aug. 9, a span of 10 starts. This season, Chen is one out away — he went just 5 2/3 innings in his first start of the season — from posting three straight quality starts to open the year.
“He pitched real well,” Showalter said of Chen. “He gave us another really good chance to win. We just weren't able to score any runs. … We didn't make a couple plays behind him we should have made and we didn't take advantage of the scenarios they made.”
The last time Chen pitched against the Yankees, it was on the national stage. He kept the Orioles' postseason hopes alive last October by beating the Yankees in a series-tying American League Division Series Game 2 win in which he held New York to two runs — one earned — over 6 1/3 innings at Camden Yards.
But on Sunday night, the Orioles starter unraveled in a three-run fifth inning that was capped by a two-out, two-run homer by Brett Gardner that hit off the right-field foul pole.
"I feel like it's an OK performance tonight,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "On the mound I was thinking too much and that caused the big inning."
Over Chen's past 26 regular-season starts, the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs 19 times. The Orioles haven't plated a single run while Chen has been in the game over his past two starts, a span of 12 1/3 innings.
The Orioles have scored just 15 runs while Chen was in the game during his 10-start regular-season winless streak.
Asked if the Orioles' inability to score runs for him gave him a smaller margin for error, Chen said, “I can only compete with myself. I'm not competing with anyone. This is what it is. I didn't do my job today. Today was not my day.”
The Yankees opened the fifth inning with back-to-back singles from Brennan Boesch and Francisco Cervelli. After moving to third on a long fly ball to right, Boesch broke a scoreless tie on Jayson Nix's sacrifice fly to right.
Chen's next pitch was his one mistake, as he left a first-pitch fastball up in the zone and Gardner, who has just 17 career homers in 486 major league games, turned on it, lifting it high down the right-field line.
Gardner's homer was just the third of his career against a left-handed pitcher and the first since July 3, 2010, when he homered off Toronto's Ricky Romero.
The one bright spot for the Orioles was the relief performance by Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland, who threw two scoreless innings and struck out three in his second major league appearance.
The Orioles, who have been home just three days since the beginning of spring training on Feb 12 after opening the season with nine of their first 12 games on the road, now return home for a nine-day, nine-game homestand following an off day Monday.
“It feels like we haven't played at home since last year,” Davis said. “We had a brief three days there and it was kind of chaotic. It'll be nice to be back home and sleep in our own beds.”