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 team's losing streak to seven.
Battered, the Orioles returned home to face the New York Yankees with their Little Three -- Triple-A escapees Scott Klingenbeck and Arthur Rhodes, and Jamie Moyer, who started last night's game -- and they nearly pulled off a sweep. Moyer pitched seven solid innings, but the Yankees salvaged the third game of the series, 2-1, before a sellout crowd of 46,536.
Moyer (1-3) allowed just five hits, but two of those were bases-empty homers, by Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams. In another in a long line of could'ves-would'ves-should'ves, the Orioles, who were held to five hits, went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and, with that, they fell eight games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
Yankees closer John Wetteland, following starter Andy Pettitte (2-4) and relievers Steve Howe and Bob Wickman, pitched a scoreless ninth for his 10th save of the year. Wetteland, acquired from the Montreal Expos in a trade at the outset of spring training, struck out Kevin Bass, retired catcher Chris Hoiles on a fly to center, and struck out pinch hitter Harold Baines.
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 manager Phil Regan desperately needed him to pitch deep into last night's game. In the three games before 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, on a hanging curve, and Williams mashed his homer in the fifth.
The Orioles, who had rebounded from a five-run deficit Tuesday night, struggled to muster any sort of attack against Pettitte, a rookie who allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Brady 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 both 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 field and, after Bass walked, Hoiles flied to left.
The Orioles finally broke through in the fifth. Manny 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. Yankees 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 that 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 from third.
That was all, however: Palmeiro flied to center and Ripken grounded out to second, killing the rally.
The Orioles did not get a hit after the fifth inning. They are 0-10 when getting five hits or less.
The Orioles nearly tied the score in the bottom of the seventh, after Howe came on for the Yankees, 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, sometimes straight in from left field, in about the fourth inning, sometimes from center to home.
Alexander, leading off, powered a long, high fly to left, a blast that on another night may have carried a dozen rows into the stands.
But the ball, tangled high in those gusts, died as it carried near the wall. Yankees left fielder Gerald Williams reached up at the back of the warning track, just in front of some fans trying to serve as interference, and made the catch.
Alexander's face, bright with expectation as he rounded first, sagged as he saw his drive descend, along with the Orioles' hopes.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 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