With their season reduced to two games, the Orioles invited a select group of fans onto the field last night and offered the shirts off their backs. It seemed an appropriate gesture from a team left exposed for the past five weeks.
The fifth sellout crowd at Camden Yards this summer watched the New York Yankees, intent on entering the playoffs with a full head of steam, call on their usual resources to defeat the Orioles, 4-2, before 48,165.
David Wells (19-7) blanked the Orioles on two hits over six innings, coming out after 60 pitches to stay fresh for the American League Division Series. The Yankees scored all their runs with two outs, maintaining their knack for delivering in the clutch, and made two sensational defensive plays.
The Orioles (67-94), who were being shut out until Geronimo Gil homered off Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning, have lost 11 in a row - their longest skid since beginning 1988 with 21 straight defeats.
Buddy Groom provided a brief distraction by entering with two outs in the ninth and becoming the only pitcher in major-league history with 70 appearances in seven straight years.
"I guess like a wine," Groom said, "I get better with age."
The Orioles are getting worse by the game.
One day after pitcher Sidney Ponson summed up his frustration by saying he was ready to "explode," manager Mike Hargrove added, "I think we all are." With so many contracts about to expire in the front office, it's uncertain who will be picking up most of the pieces.
Hargrove is folding the 2002 schedule so the last five weeks are hidden. Many hands in the organization are making the same creases to cover 31 losses in the past 35 games.
"You go through something like this and the frustration builds," Hargrove said, "and anything you do doesn't seem to work with any consistency, and that makes it even worse. But you have to look at every day as the start of a new string."
And try not to get your feet tangled.
"Every day is a new chance to get things unraveled and get it going on the right track," Hargrove said. "There are certain things that take the edge off of losing, but I don't think you ever get used to losing. You look at the effort or the progress the kids have made."
Included among the decisions facing the Orioles is defining a role for Travis Driskill (8-8), who made his 19th start among 29 appearances this season. Hargrove has indicated Driskill is better suited to pitch in relief, and the right-hander will accept any assignment if it keeps him in the majors.
He stumbled in the fifth inning last night, hitting Jason Giambi with the bases loaded and allowing a two-run double to Bernie Williams on the next pitch, as the Yankees handed a 3-0 lead to Wells. Driskill issued two walks before nailing Giambi behind the right arm.
"They do a good job of just wearing you down," Driskill said. "I threw 87 pitches in five innings. That means they kept seeing me and seeing me, and finally things went their way."
Typical of the Orioles' luck since reaching .500 on Aug. 23, they were robbed of a run the previous inning when Robin Ventura made a diving stop along the third base line and threw out Tony Batista with Luis Lopez at second.
Jay Gibbons doubled off the scoreboard in right to open the fifth. With two outs, Alfonso Soriano ranged far behind second base to field Gil's bouncer and throw to first for the out.
As if another contrast between the clubs was necessary, center fielder Luis Matos misjudged a liner from Rondell White with two outs in the sixth that went for a double, and White later scored when Soriano singled off reliever Eric DuBose.
"This last month has taken the luster off the season. Eighty percent of it was very successful. That's how I choose to look at it," Hargrove said. "We'll try to build on the progress we made in the first 80 percent. I don't think that has been lost or destroyed. It's just been tough to find."
Opponent:New York Yankees
TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters:Yankees' Mike Mussina (17-10, 4.14) vs. Orioles' John Stephens (2-4, 5.85)