Whether the New York Yankees knew it or not, they let the Orioles bat out of order twice last night and did not protest, even though the first of those batters, Tony Batista, drove home the game's first run with a sacrifice fly.
Maybe the Yankees missed something. Maybe they knew all along and were playing the percentages. Maybe it was just overconfidence, or a feeling that they could spot the Orioles an early run and still come back.
The answers weren't going to come until later, and somewhere in this convoluted mess, the two teams managed to play another drama-filled baseball game before a sellout crowd of 48,499 at Camden Yards.
Adding to the drama, the Orioles threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the 12th, but fell short. With two outs and Jack Cust on first, Larry Bigbie doubled to right-center field. Cust rounded third, slipped, and then got caught in a rundown. With no one covering the plate for the Yankees, Cust fell again about 10 feet before making it to the plate and was tagged out to end the game.
The Orioles were down to their final three outs in the ninth, when Luis Matos hit his 10th home run of the season off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, sending the game into extra innings. Hideki Matsui had given the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the eighth with a run-scoring single off Orioles reliever John Parrish.
By the late innings, those clutch performances started to overshadow the early confusion.
The lineup the Orioles posted in their clubhouse, and the lineup initially posted on the scoreboard at Camden Yards was different from the lineup they handed the umpire before the game.
The Orioles' clubhouse and scoreboard version had Tony Batista batting fourth and Jay Gibbons batting fifth. The official lineup card - the one handed to the umpires - had those two hitters inverted.
In the first inning, Deivi Cruz hit a one-out single off Yankees starter Sterling Hitchcock, and Matos followed with a ground-rule double that bounced over the center-field wall. That put runners at second and third, and Batista strolled to the plate.
Nobody said a word.
In Major League Baseball's official rule book, under item 6.07 - Batting out of Turn, it says, "The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter's box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams."
Batista stood in and drove Hitchcock's first pitch for a sacrifice fly to center field, as Cruz scored standing up and Matos advanced to third. At that point, the Yankees could have protested. Batista would have been out, and the runners would have returned to second and third.
Under that scenario, Gibbons would have been skipped, and the next batter would have been Brook Fordyce, the No. 6 hitter.
But the Yankees said nothing. And there was evidence they knew, as the lineup posted in their clubhouse before the game had Gibbons batting fourth and Batista batting fifth.
Gibbons ended the inning by grounding to first base.
After the second inning, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove and Yankees manager Joe Torre met with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, and an announcement went out in the press box that the Orioles had batted out of turn. The lineups on the scoreboard were changed, and in the fourth inning, Gibbons flied out to left field before Batista fouled out to left.
Torre went out to talk to Marquez after that Gibbons' at-bat, but nothing changed.
Neither Gibbons nor Batista reached base the rest of the game.
In the rulebook, Item 6.07 (d) says, "The instant an improper batter's actions are legalized, the batting order picks up with the name following that of the legalized improper batter."
In other words, once Torre let Hitchcock throw his first pitch to Gibbons in the first inning, Batista's improper trip to the plate was "legalized." The next batter was supposed to be Fordyce - "the name following that of the legalized improper batter [Batista]."
So Gibbons was "improper" too, but when he made a harmless out, Torre had no reason to argue about him batting out of turn.
Veteran members of the media who have been watching Major League Baseball for years spent several innings scratching their heads, wrestling with something they had never seen before.
But the game went on, and Orioles starter Pat Hentgen was in line for the victory after holding the Yankees to two runs on five hits in six innings. The Orioles used home runs from two unlikely sources - Jose Morban and Fordyce - to grab a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning.
The Yankees came back to tie it with their own unlikely power source, backup catcher John Flaherty, who turned in his first two-homer game in four years.
Flaherty, the Yankees' No. 9 hitter, hit a home run off Hentgen in the fifth inning and another off Parrish in the seventh inning, which tied the score, 3-3.
It was the sixth time Flaherty has hit two home runs in a game, but the first since 1999.
Losing it late
The Orioles have lost six games in a row, including four in which they held leads entering the seventh inning or later:
Day Opp. Lead/Inn. Res.
8-11 T.B. 3-1/8th L, 4-3
8-12 T.B. L, 4-2
8-13 T.B. L, 6-5*
8-14 N.Y. 5-3/7th L, 8-5
8-15 N.Y. 3-2/9th L, 6-4
8-16 N.Y. 3-2/7th L, 5-4**
*-10 innings; **-12 innings.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Mike Mussina (13-6, 3.19) vs. Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (5-7, 5.62)