NEW YORK -- Orioles reliever B.J. Ryan regards himself as a slow starter. Until last night, he had been living in the fast lane.
Ryan had been scored upon in only one of his 11 appearances spanning 13 2/3 innings before serving up a three-run homer to New York's Jorge Posada in the ninth inning that gave the Yankees a 12-10 victory.
There was more. Ryan also had struck out at least one batter in 10 of his outings and opponents were hitting .180 (9-for-50). He hadn't allowed any of his five inherited runners to cross the plate.
Slow starter? This guy had been a blur until last night.
"It surprises me," he said before the game. "It usually takes me a while to get going. That's why I really didn't put a lot of pressure on myself in spring training," he said.
If Ryan looked hard enough, he could find fault with his performance leading up to the game. He had walked nine, against 16 strikeouts, in 13 2/3 innings - a number that tended to block his view of a 0.66 ERA that had been a truer reflection of his season. Last night, he walked Tino Martinez after replacing Mike Timlin with a runner on first and none out. Posada jumped on his next pitch.
"It makes me want to kick myself," Ryan said, "because with the infield we have, you just want the ball on the ground."
Ryan has been used in a variety of roles, depending on the situation and the availability of the other relievers. He's eaten up some innings in the middle of games, he's been called upon to face one batter, and he's served as a bridge to the closer. This time, manager Mike Hargrove needed a save.
His first appearance came in the season's second game on April 5, when he struck out Kenny Lofton to end the eighth inning. Four pitches, and he was through. But on April 21 in Oakland, he replaced Sidney Ponson in the sixth and turned in 1 1/3 scoreless innings. He retired the side in order in the fifth inning of an April 26 game in Chicago, again spelling Ponson, and threw two shutout innings the next day after replacing Calvin Maduro to begin the fourth.
"You go out there every situation pretty much the same. You just want to throw strikes and get outs whichever way you can," said Ryan, 24, who was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds on July 31 for starter Juan Guzman.
"If you have to throw two innings or you're facing one batter, you pretty much have the same mentality."
Ryan, who allowed runs in only two of his 13 games with the Orioles last season, said the extended appearances have left his arm feeling better than expected.
"I really hadn't done it much in spring training. I'd throw one inning here and there. But it really hasn't bothered me at all," he said.
"It's just going to build up arm strength and that's what you're looking for. Just kind of get everything going and everything working right."
Timlin steps back
Timlin wasn't on quite the same roll as Ryan, but at least he had been moving in the right direction until last night.
Timlin had allowed only one earned run in his last four appearances until Paul O'Neill led off the ninth inning with a home run.
Activated from the disabled list on April 17, Timlin has been trying to rebuild his confidence. In his first outing after rejoining the bullpen, he served up a two-run homer to Tampa Bay's Gerald Williams on April 20. Timlin earned his first save the following night in Oakland, escaping a jam after walking two, but failed to close out a win the next day after allowing a run on three hits and a walk. Buddy Groom came in and got the last out. Timlin also allowed two unearned runs in Chicago on April 27.
In the second year of a four-year, $16 million contract, Timlin was most encouraged by the scoreless inning he turned in Wednesday against Anaheim. He gave up a harmless single to Darin Erstad, who has been reaching just about every pitcher this season.
Standing at his locker before last night's game, Timlin said, "I feel extremely comfortable. I'm liking my chances. I've just got to go with what I've got right now, and what I've got is all they're going to get."
The Orioles can only hope it gets better.
Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch isn't expected to play in this series because of a sprained left wrist. He was replaced in the lineup last night by Wilson Delgado, who was acquired from San Francisco on March 23 for infielder Juan Melo. Delgado had an error in the Orioles' two-run third inning.
Knoblauch suffered the injury on April 23 in Toronto while swinging a bat. He went 0-for-4 in Monday's win in Cleveland, extending his slump to 1-for-16, and was scratched from the lineup the following night. He previously had missed a three-game series in Minnesota that ended April 26.
The Yankees are aiming for a Monday return for Knoblauch and don't believe he'll make his first career appearance on the disabled list.
Around the horn
Yankees manager Joe Torre had 1,312 victories going into last night, one short of tying Ned Hanlon for 24th place on the all-time list. ... Through 27 games last season, Orioles starters had failed to go five innings on nine occasions. In the same amount of games this year, they fell short four times.