NEW YORK -- The most expensive team in baseball history is all but out of contention and it isn't even summer yet.
Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson held the New York Yankees to two hits through seven innings last night at Yankee Stadium, but it didn't matter. The defenseless division champions found another frustrating way to lose, 3-1, and limped out of New York on the wrong end of a humiliating three-game sweep that left them beaten, bruised and entirely out of answers.
That's eight losses in a row and 14 games out of first place. The losing streak is the longest by the Orioles since 1993.
Their frustration boiled over briefly at the end, but -- unlike Tuesday night -- it wasn't directed at the first-place Yankees. Outfielder B. J. Surhoff was ejected after the eighth inning for failing to turn the ball over to the umpires after catching the final out. Manager Ray Miller was ejected moments later for coming to his defense. By that time, the Orioles probably were willing to leave of their own accord.
The Orioles had just let another scoring opportunity get away in the top of the eighth. The Yankees scored two runs in the bottom of the inning on an RBI groundout by Paul O'Neill and a run-scoring single by Bernie Williams to spoil the gutty performance by Erickson and further establish the difference between the teams that were supposed to fight all year for the division title.
They fought all right. They fought for 10 minutes in the series opener and then the Orioles pretty much surrendered.
Erickson tried to breathe some life into them, but his best wasn't good enough. He had to stay out there too long because the bullpen can no longer be trusted. The patient, confident Yankees just waited until his pitch count got well past 100 and chipped away until they made a big enough crack to record their 31st victory in 40 games.
"We had our chances," Miller said. "We got a great effort from Scotty and we've got to take that into tomorrow. You've got to take something into the next day when you're going bad. He pitched his butt off."
Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte wasn't nearly so impressive, but it didn't matter. He was good enough to hold a resourceless Orioles offense to one bases-empty home run, and closer Mariano Rivera did the rest, pitching a perfect ninth inning for his ninth save of the year.
"That kind of epitomized what we're going through," Surhoff said. "We had three chances to score. It came down to either Andy made good pitches when he needed to or we just didn't do what we had to do. That's what happens when you're not going well. They made the plays to win, and we made the plays to lose."
Surhoff insisted that he did nothing to warrant being ejected. He said that umpire Dale Ford asked him for the ball as he jogged in from the outfield, but he told the umpire it was scuffed and tossed it into the stands. Ford apparently felt that Surhoff treated him with disrespect and ejected him, bringing Miller onto the field for his most animated umpiring argument of the season.
"I didn't even know I was thrown out," Surhoff said. "He's got to have better things to do than that. That's the first time I've ever heard of a guy getting thrown out for throwing the ball into the stands after the last out."
If nothing else, it was a good night to get out of town. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium still was charged two days after the bean brawl that led to the suspension of five players and added animosity to an already heated rivalry.
The fans reacted to anything resembling an inside pitch, breaking into an obscene chant after Erickson bounced a breaking ball at the feet of outfielder Paul O'Neill in the first inning.
But the game was decidedly short on the kind of offensive fireworks that had been so prevalent during the first two games of the series, remaining scoreless until first baseman Rafael Palmeiro cranked a ball off the facing of the third deck in right field to put the Orioles up by a run in the fourth inning.
Palmeiro, who has flirted with 40 homers in four of the past five seasons, hit just one in his first 20 games this year, but he is making up for lost time. The home run off Pettitte was his eighth in the past 26 games and put him back on pace to challenge his career high for a season (39).
Erickson didn't look like he was going to need a lot of offensive support, but the Orioles had gotten on the scoreboard first in each of the first two games of the series only to be reeled in by the hottest team in baseball.
This time, they had a chance to pad the slim lead in the fifth when they loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks with two outs, but Roberto Alomar went first-ball swinging and hit a nubber in front of the plate for the final out of the inning. Pettitte also had to work out of trouble in the sixth, giving up two singles before getting Lenny Webster to end the threat with a bouncer to third.
Pettitte has been the Yankees' most consistent pitcher during the past three seasons, but he has been the most vulnerable during the past seven weeks. He is the only Yankees starter with more than one loss and has been charged with more defeats (4) than the rest of the rotation combined (3). Still, he entered the game tied with former Oriole David Wells for the team lead with five victories.
Erickson carried an impressive one-hit performance into the sixth inning only to fall victim to a rare defensive meltdown. Joe Girardi singled off the glove of a diving Alomar to lead off the inning and Dale Sveum hit a bouncer through the middle that Alomar tried unsuccessfully to add to his personal highlight reel.
Alomar fielded the ball on the run and tried to flip it behind his back to shortstop Mike Bordick on the front end of a potentially spectacular double play, but the flip sailed high and everyone was safe by the time Bordick got control of the ball. Moments later, Chuck Knoblauch laid down a sacrifice bunt that became a near-disaster when Alomar shied away from a possible collision at first base and allowed Cal Ripken's throw to sail down the line for an error that brought home the tying run.
"I was behind the base [on Sveum's bouncer]," Alomar said. "That's the only way I could have gotten him the ball, by throwing it behind my back. On the other play, the throw was into the runner. I don't think I had a chance to get it."
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 10: 35
TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Kamieniecki (2-1, 5.20) vs. Athletics' Tom Candiotti (3-4, 3.95)
The Orioles are 6-13 (.315) in May and play five of their last eight games of the month on the road. A look at the worst months in club history by percentage:
Pct. (Rec.) .. .. .. .. Month, Year
(1-22) .. .. .. .. April, 1988
(5-23) .. .. .. .. June, 1987
(7-25) .. .. .. .. Aug., 1954
(6-21) .. .. .. .. Sept., 1987
(8-20) .. .. .. .. Sept., 1986
Pub Date: 5/22/98