From above and beyond the Bromo Seltzer Tower that stands beyond left-center field, gusts of wind began to drive into Camden Yards in the early innings last night. Orioles left fielder Brady Anderson felt them at his back, while they blew into the face of shortstop Cal Ripken, changing directions as they swirled through the ballpark.
On a night when the pitching of the New York Yankees needed little help, these winds finished off the Orioles, robbing them of their one late-inning hope to tie a game that ended, 2-1, before a sellout crowd of 46,536.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte baffled the Orioles for six innings, and, despite a strong start by Jamie Moyer, New York took a 2-0 lead on early bases-empty homers by Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams. The Orioles had one good chance in the fifth, but managed just a run.
In the seventh inning, the Yankees went to their bullpen. With left-hander Steve Howe, and Bob Wickman and John Wetteland to follow, the Orioles would have even fewer opportunities. This was the kind of game that demanded power, one good swing for a tie.
Manny Alexander, with one home run in his major-league career, led off the seventh for the Orioles. He worked the count to three balls and two strikes and, knowing a little about how Howe pitches, he looked for a fastball. Down and in.
He got a fastball, but not too far down, and hammered it, very high. Alexander hasn't hit too many homers, but he had taken enough batting practice to know that this ball had a very good chance to go deep into the left-field stands. Ten or 15 rows deep, perhaps.
L "I thought the ball was going to go out," he said afterward.
So did Phil Regan, and Anderson. The Orioles relievers, who can't see the left-field stands very well, saw the crowd rise and heard their screams swelling, and Jesse Orosco thought it was going out, too.
Sitting in the Yankees clubhouse, icing his arm, Pettitte remembered this: The wind. It was blowing hard, the flags turned inward toward the infield. "I knew the wind was blowing in," Pettitte said. "It was a good thing, I guess."
If you were a Yankee, that is. New York left fielder Gerald Williams went back to the warning track, to the back of the warning track, and set himself.
Just a long flyout.
"I knew it was going to be close," Williams said. "I just wanted to get back in case I had to jump."
Alexander's face, bright with expectation as he rounded first, sagged as he saw his drive descend.
"I thought I hit it good enough," Alexander said, "but the wind."
Yes. The wind.
"You tie a game," Alexander said, "and you never know what happens after that."
They didn't tie the game, and nothing happened after that for the Orioles, who didn't have a hit after the fifth inning. Howe pitched into the eighth, Wickman shut down the Orioles after replacing Howe, and Wetteland pitched a scoreless ninth. A solid outing by Moyer was wasted.
If any more evidence is needed to establish that this is a very strange year in baseball, and in the AL East in particular, there is the strange case of the Orioles' starting rotation.
The Orioles' Big Three of Ben McDonald, Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina started against the lowly Tigers in Detroit last weekend and they were beaten in succession, extending the Orioles' losing streak to seven.
Battered, the Orioles returned home to face the Yankees with their Little Three -- Triple-A escapees Scott Klingenbeck and Arthur Rhodes, and Moyer -- and they very nearly pulled off a sweep.
Moyer had lasted more than 3 2/3 innings only once in his first three starts, throwing seven innings against Seattle on June 6, but Regan desperately needed him to pitch deep into last night's game. In the three games prior to Moyer's start, Regan had called for relievers 13 times, and the bullpen needed a break.
And Moyer delivered, pitching his best game of the year. He faced five batters over the minimum in his seven innings, walking only one and striking out five and allowing just the two homers. O'Neill hit his leading off the second inning, and Williams mashed his in the fifth.
The Orioles, who had rebounded from a five-run deficit Tuesday night, struggled to muster any sort of attack against Pettitte. Anderson singled to open the first and moved to second on Jeffrey Hammonds' sacrifice (interestingly, Regan was playing for one run in the first inning of a game started by Moyer, sporting a 6.48 ERA).
But Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken flied out, stranding Anderson at third.
Ripken skipped a double into the left-field corner with one out in the fourth -- another ill-fated opportunity, because Jeff Manto lined out to center fielder and, after Kevin Bass walked, Chris Hoiles flied to left.
The Orioles finally broke through in the fifth. Alexander pushed a bunt down the third base line. By the time Pettitte gloved the ball, spun and threw to first, Alexander had lurched into first. Alexander then bothered Pettitte enough to cause a balk, and moved to second.
Curtis Goodwin grounded out to short, but Anderson pulled a grounder between first and second. Second baseman Randy Velarde dove and knocked the ball down, barehanded it and threw to third, in an unsuccessful attempt to catch Alexander rounding too far around the bag. Had Velarde looked toward first, he might've realized he had a shot to throw out Anderson.
So Anderson was safe at first, and with the Yankees' Don Mattingly holding him there, Hammonds could aim for the big hole on the right side of the infield. He lined a single to right, scoring Alexander.
That was all, however: Palmeiro flied to center and Ripken grounded out to second, killing the rally.
The Orioles nearly tied the score in the bottom of the seventh, and may have, had it not been for the weather front that blew in from the north in the middle innings. Winds began to gust across Camden Yards, and the Orioles' best hope to tie the game blew away.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: 5Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Red Sox's Roger Clemens (1-1, 4.09) vs. Orioles' Kevin Brown (5-5, 3.74)
Tickets: 7,000 remain