At least the Baltimore Orioles teased 36,459 fans with the prospect of victory last night.
But the bullpen took its turn being the culprit in the team's slump, and the New York Yankees rallied for a 6-5 decision that left John Oates winless in two games as Orioles manager.
"Lately, there have been a lot of empty seats by the fifth and sixth innings around here," said Oates. "But I looked around in the ninth, and not too many people had left. We had a chance down to the last pitch. That encourages me to come back here tomorrow."
Eleven of the first 16 Yankees to face relief pitchers reached base, and they put it away against a wild Mike Flanagan with a two-run ninth inning.
Three walks (one intentional) were packed into the rally, which included a game-winning single by Roberto Kelly on an 0-2 pitch and a sacrifice fly by Don Mattingly that turned into a double play when Steve Sax was thrown out trying to reach second base.
Flanagan had been superb in 16 previous relief appearances (1-0, 1.59 ERA), but an indication that he couldn't find the plate came in the eighth when he almost hit, then did hit, Mel Hall with curveballs.
Then, in the ninth, he walked Matt Nokes on a 3-2 pitch and walked Pat Kelly on another 3-2 count after Kelly had failed twice to sacrifice.
"He struggled with control all night," said Oates. "He hadn't had any previous problem. Kelly was trying to give us an out, and Mike couldn't get it over."
Oates could have brought Gregg Olson in for right-handed batters Roberto Kelly and Sax but said: "I didn't think the opportunity presented itself. If we had gone ahead, Olson would have been in."
Roberto Kelly singled in the go-ahead run on an 0-2 pitch when Mike Devereaux's throw home skipped over catcher Chris Hoiles' shoulder. The resultant advance of the other two runners forced an intentional walk to Sax, and Mattingly then drove in what proved to be the winner with a sacrifice fly.
This marked the sixth time in 17 chances this year that the Orioles bullpen has entered games with the score tied or the team leading and ended up losing.
Baltimore responded with a run in the ninth on two infield hits and Devereaux's single through the middle before Lee Guetterman finished by getting Cal Ripken on a pop-up with two on.
Ripken had led the Orioles attack earlier with a two-run homer off Pascual Perez and a double in the eighth that led to the tying run after the Yankees had gone ahead for the first time on Mattingly's first home run off a right-hander, Mark Williamson.
The Orioles had a 3-0 lead behind Jeff Ballard's best start in a month when he beat the Chicago White Sox, 5-1, while facing only 24 batters in eight innings.
But Ballard was pitching for the third time in seven days, including a start last Sunday and a scoreless relief effort the next night in Detroit.
"He came in after the sixth inning and said his arm had about had it for this game," said Oates. "I asked him if he could stay in for one more batter [Kevin Maas, who lined out], then when a right-hander came to bat, we'd change pitchers. He said that was fine."
But Roy Smith gave up a broken-bat single to Jesse Barfield, Kevin Hickey walked Mel Hall on a close call, and Williamson gave up run-scoring hits to Nokes and Pat Kelly, tying the game at 3.
"Mel Hall had a great at-bat, and then Pat Kelly with the big base hit was key for us," said Mattingly. "That took the pressure off."
Mattingly, who became the designated hitter instead of the first baseman just before game time because of a slightly injured hamstring, hit an 0-1 pitch from Williamson for a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning.
But the Orioles answered in the bottom half when Cal Ripken, the team's hottest hitter, doubled into the left-field corner, advanced on a ground ball and scored on Randy Milligan's angle to right off Steve Farr.
Both teams continued their eighth-inning threats, but Milligan was caught off first by Nokes, and Flanagan ended the New York rally by striking out Alvaro Espinoza.
Farr wound up with a blown save chance -- and a victory.
"We'll get it all together one of these nights," said Oates. "A couple times we just didn't make the pitches when we had to in this game."
So far, the downbeat goes on. At 13-26, the Orioles have had only one worse record after 39 games -- in the year of the 0-21 start, 1988.
At least this time, they were in contention until the finish. Perhaps that's progress.