NEW YORK - The Orioles accomplished the impossible yesterday.
No, not by beating the New York Yankees, 10-5, at Yankee Stadium. They actually had beaten the world champions as recently as seven meetings ago last September, back when Jose Mercedes became a 14-game winner and pinstripes were only a gleam in Mike Mussina's eye.
No, it wasn't that the Orioles beat the Yankees, but how they did it.
One out from a 5-3 win, the here-we-go-again Orioles slumped at the sight of right fielder Paul O'Neill's two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer off closer Ryan Kohlmeier, then rallied two innings later for an unprecedented five runs against the Yankees' right-handed enforcer, Mariano Rivera (1-3). Almost as unusual, the Yankees beat themselves when shortstop Derek Jeter's fumble of an inning-ending double play allowed the Orioles to extend their ambush of Rivera.
"We beat their best. It's good to see we don't give up. We had the lead, it got even, and we took it back again. We did not give in," said catcher Brook Fordyce.
The win marked the first time any opponent has scored five runs against Rivera in 340 relief appearances.
Jeter's bobble of Jerry Hairston's one-hop smash, Mike Kinkade's RBI single and Jeff Conine's three-run laser to left field silenced a Mother's Day crowd of 39,819 who had roared when O'Neill left Kohlmeier with a blown save two innings before.
"Nobody - least of all the Yankees - expects Mariano Rivera to come in and give up five runs in one inning," said manager Mike Hargrove. "That's like the Century Plant. It blooms every 100 years."
Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "You're not going to go out there with drop-dead stuff all the time. Again, they got a couple of base hits. He got a ground-ball hit, and we couldn't do anything with it. And then the wheels came off. It's not his best stuff today. He's fine. There's no physical problem or anything like that. You just chalk it up, because you just got your rear end kicked."
With the Yankees, "rear" and "kicked" rarely mix with the words "Orioles" and "win." However, raking Rivera's dominant cut fastball was rarer still.
"As a hitter, your thought process is to gear up for one pitch. That's it. But that's how good it is," Conine said. You know what's coming every single time, and it's still hard to hit."
The Orioles return from a break-even road trip now certain they can beat the Yankees. Six consecutive losses to New York, including a four-game sweep at Camden Yards, tested their resolve. Yesterday confirmed their resilience and rewarded their tenacity.
"It seems like it doesn't matter what kind of lead you have or what kind of situation you have in this place," Conine said. "As far as my career in the American League is concerned, they always come back, and they always give you a good fight in the end."
Another loss would have been devastating to the Orioles and their rookie closer. Kohlmeier walked Chuck Knoblauch on four pitches to bring O'Neill to the plate with the tying run. After falling behind 2-0, he fed the right fielder a fastball that quickly disappeared for a tie game.
But this time the Yankees came out bloodied. They lost for the first time in 16 games this season against a team with a losing record. The 16-22 Orioles return for their longest homestand of the season having scored at least five runs in their past five games.
"You want to be competitive, and you want to win," Conine said. "That's the bottom line. I was asked in Baltimore if I was happy to be competitive with this team. Well, no. We lost. We want to be competitive, yes. But you also want to win."
Conine, center fielder Chris Richard and designated hitter Greg Myers homered to account for eight of their team's 10 RBIs. Left-handed reliever B. J. Ryan (2-0) outgunned Rivera to earn his second win of the road trip. He struck out five in two innings and again resembles the hard-throwing strikeout monster who dominated before vanishing last May. Ryan allowed only one hit to a team that left him with a 10.38 ERA in five appearances last season.
Hairston's hustle and Jeter's shaky glove proved decisive.
With one out and runners at first and third, Hairston grounded sharply to Jeter. Rapidly building a reputation for shaky defense, Jeter bobbled the ball before shoving it to second for a force. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano's relay was a step late to first, allowing Fordyce to score the go-ahead run.
"Three or four things went through my mind when I hit it," Hairston said. "I just wanted to hit it hard somewhere. When I did, I couldn't believe it was right at him. But it worked out."
The game reached Ryan because starter Jose Mercedes offered 6 2/3 encouraging innings, Richard erased a 3-0 deficit in the fourth inning with his three-run homer off Yankees starter Orlando Hernandez, and Myers punctuated what might be his last game with the club with a two-run homer in the eighth inning.
The Orioles need roster room to activate first baseman David Segui tomorrow, so trading Myers is among the team's options.
Richard began yesterday with seemingly incongruous numbers. Though hitting .295 with 11 extra-base hits, including a team-high four home runs, he found himself with only 10 RBIs. One explanation could be found with Richard's opportunities. He was hitting .182 with runners in scoring position.
"When you don't get a lot of opportunities and they finally come about, you get a little anxious," he said.
The Orioles may have lost the three-game series, but they shook themselves offensively, managing at least 10 hits in every game while lifting their team average from .227 to .234. Yesterday's breakout against the game's most dominant closer can only reinforce a shifting lineup's confidence.
Though 1-6 against the Yankees, the Orioles positioned themselves for wins earlier this month only to be undone by defensive lapses or dominant pitching.
"The other ones were either way," Conine said. "If we do better in certain situations, we win a couple of those games. With the team that they've got, they make things happen. You say, 'They're lucky. They're world champions and everything goes their way.' There's a reason for that. They're a great team, and they make things happen."