The Orioles have come to Yankee Stadium two days and already the appearance has allowed them to feel a complete team's hammer and its scalpel.
A day after suffering a dispiriting 12-10 loss to the two-time world champions, the Orioles struggled to a 3-1 defeat against the New York Yankees and their future Hall of Fame pitcher, Roger Clemens. The loss was the Orioles' fourth straight and fifth in sixth games, dropping them to15-14 and 5 1/2 games off the Yankees' division lead. For a game so close, there was little suspense. And for a win so decisive, there was plenty of subtlety.
Instead of losing with 10 runs and 14 hits as happened on Friday night, the Orioles received a solid effort from starting pitcher Pat Rapp, who was given fewer than four runs of support for the first time this season. In his most impressive performance with the Orioles, Rapp was denied his first career win in six appearances at Yankee Stadium due mostly to factors beyond his control.
Clemens pitched surgically. The Orioles struggled to sustain any rally. And manager Mike Hargrove was left to twist over two gray-area decisions.
Several Orioles hitters noted plate umpire Mike DiMuro seemed to give the Yankees' 250-win pitcher and Mariano Rivera a wider strike zone than he afforded Rapp. B.J. Surhoff struck out after looking at all three strikes in the first inning and the bench screamed in protest when catcher Greg Myers was called out to end the game on two outside pitches.
"That's not why we lost the game," said Surhoff. "But it's a fact that you deal with."
"He pitches to his strengths. He figures out what they're calling and throws it there," said Harold Baines.
Clemens finished with four hits allowed, two walks and five strikeouts in seven innings. After 99 pitches, he handed the game to Mike Stanton and Rivera (11th save), who closed without incident.
"Today [Clemens] pitched more than the last time I saw him. He pitched in and out and didn't seem to make many mistakes over the middle of the plate," said first baseman Jeff Conine, part of the lineup's lower half that suffered a combined1-for-14 day. "He's still as effective but not as scary as he used to be throwing 98."
Just as the37-year-old Clemens is a different pitcher than the one who won hisfifth Cy Young Award in 1998, yesterday's game was a marked departure from Friday's offensive orgy.
"As sloppy as last night was, today was crisp and the way baseball should be played," said Hargrove. "There are a lot of positives we can take out of today, but what outweighs all the positives is we lost."
Hargrove spoke of silver linings while managing around sobering realities. Rather than call upon struggling left-handed reliever Chuck McElroy to face first baseman Tino Martinez with two outs and runners at first and third in the eighth inning, Hargrove allowed the flagging Rapp to press on despite a pitch count of 113. The non-move was a telling one.Rapp (3-2) hadn't gone past106 pitches or six innings in any of five previous starts.
McElroy, trailed by a13.50 ERA that includes 12 earned runs in his last five outings, has not appeared in three games since surrendering a two-run homer in the Orioles' 6-5 loss to Anaheim Wednesday.
Hargrove insisted yesterday there are no plans to shuffle bullpen roles despite a first month that has produced seven blown saves.
The latest occurred Friday night, when an 8-5 sixth-inning lead was transformed into a 12-10 loss following two blown saves and three home runs surrendered by Buddy Groom, Mike Timlin and B.J. Ryan, including Posada's three-run game-winner in the ninth inning.
"I felt good. It seemed like I kept my pitches down in the zone most of the game," said Rapp. "Even the balls they hit were decent pitches. It's a positive for me to stay in the game that long and to keep my pitches down and my pitch count down."
Yesterday, even a laboring Rapp received Hargrove's endorsement.
On a 3-1 pitch, Martinez sliced a ground-rule double inside the left-field line to score Derek Jeter for a two-run lead. Rapp then intentionally walked switch-hitter Jorge Posada and Calvin Maduro was summoned to face Shane Spencer, who flied out.
"It was the wrong count for me to be in that late in the game," said Rapp. "I think he was geared up for a fastball and dragged his bat through the zone and got it down the line."
With Rivera in waiting and the Yankees apparently benefiting from a wide zone, the Orioles were hardly in position for a ninth-inning reversal. But Hargrove couldn't avoid another tactical debate. Brady Anderson's sore left knee was enough to keep him out of the lineup but was not enough to prevent him from pinch-running for Baines in a two-run game.
Baines' one-out single against Rivera didn't represent a threat by itself and Anderson's presence was almost superfluous with Myers and No. 9 hitter Rich Amaral approaching. However, Hargrove thought Anderson better able to run than torque his knee with a swing, and Anderson's ability to take second base unchallenged eliminated a double-play threat.
Madison Square Garden Network broadcasters Bobby Murcer and Tim McCarver picked apart Hargrove's ninth-inning strategy. The manager then bristled when asked why Anderson wasn't saved as a pinch hitter for Myers.
"Myers is hitting .429 [3-for-7] against Rivera," Hargrove said. "If you're going to second-guess me, you better come up with something better than that."
Using Mark Lewis to pinch run also would have left Hargrove without an extra infielder had the game reached extra innings.
The Yankees grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning on doubles by Bernie Williams and Posada. They pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning when Williams led off with a walk, took third on Martinez's double smashed past Conine and scored on Spencer's sacrifice fly.
Martinez's double whistled past Conine, who never saw the drive "until it was about a foot in front of my face" because of the afternoon's glare.
Consecutive doubles by Amaral and Delino DeShields pulled the Orioles to within 2-1 in the fifth inning. Albert Belle doubled in the sixth, reached third on a ground ball, but was stranded by Cal Ripken's groundout.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium, NewYork
Time: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch.13/WBAL (1090AM)
Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (2-1, 5.40 vs. Yankees' Ramiro Mendoza (3-2, 4.91)