After Bedard leave, O's lose lead, game to Yanks


New York -- The Orioles will play the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox a combined 15 more times before this baseball season is over. So one way or another, the Orioles, their hopes of contending long abandoned, will play a role in deciding the American League East.

It's just up to them on what role they want to play, that of a pesky spoiler or a deflated pushover. For six innings last night, the Orioles were the former, riding a gutsy six innings from burgeoning ace Erik Bedard, who outpitched the organization's former ace, Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina.

But the moment Bedard left the game, the Orioles fell apart. Two batters, two runs. LaTroy Hawkins surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Johnny Damon in the seventh inning, then Tim Byrdak served up the go-ahead run later that inning on a two-out double by Robinson Cano. The 6-3 loss before 52,418 at Yankee Stadium was the Orioles' fifth straight, matching a season high.

New York's victory, coupled with Boston's loss last night to Detroit, leaves the Yankees three games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East. The Orioles (51-68) are a season-high 20M-= games back and are a combined 4-18 against the Red Sox and Yankees this season.

Leading 1-0 heading into the sixth, the Orioles tacked on two runs, the first coming home on Jay Gibbons' single that scored Brian Roberts, who led off the inning with a double. With men on first and third and just one out, Mussina was on the verge of getting out of the inning as Jeff Conine hit what appeared to be a routine double-play ball.

But much-maligned Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez bobbled the ball and then threw wide to first, allowing Conine to reach and Melvin Mora to score. It was Rodriguez's 21st error of the season.

Rodriguez did gain some redemption in the bottom half of the inning, lacing a no-out single with the bases loaded to score the Yankees' first run. The bases still loaded and nobody out, Bedard, his pitch count rising over 100 and noise from Yankee Stadium getting louder and louder, struck out Robinson Cano.

He then got some defensive help as Mora leaped to snare Jorge Posada's line drive for the second out. Mora sprained his left thumb on the play. Precautionary X-rays last night were negative.

It figured that the next batter, Craig Wilson, sent a bouncer right at Mora's replacement, Chris Gomez, who fielded it cleanly and fired to second for a force out that ended the inning. Out of the bases-loaded and no-out jam with his lead still intact, Bedard offered a subdued celebration.

His night was over after allowing five hits and one run while striking out six. The Orioles had a chance to expand their 3-1 lead, loading the bases with one out in the fifth. But Miguel Tejada's fly ball to right field was too shallow to score Ramon Hernandez from third and Gibbons flied out for the final out. In the dugout, Tejada slammed the water cooler and threw a towel in disgust.

In the bottom of the inning, he watched in disgust as Damon tied the game with a two-run shot against Hawkins. The Orioles beat Mussina 11 days ago at Camden Yards, breaking the right-hander's five-game winning streak. They touched him for three earned runs on six hits and two walks as the organization's former ace was out-dueled by rookie Adam Loewen in the Orioles' 5-0 victory.

Mussina was clearly sharper last night, retiring the first six Orioles he faced, three of them on strikeouts. Kevin Millar got the visitors" first hit with a leadoff single in the third, but the Yankees starter got the slumping Hernandez to hit into a fielder's choice and then struck out Nick Markakis swinging and Roberts looking.

Tejada hit a one-out double in the fourth, the ball deflecting off the glove of Bobby Abreu in front of the right-field wall. However, Tejada was stranded following back-to-back groundouts by Gibbons and Conine.

Bedard, however, was just as sharp. The lefty, who was winless in his last three starts, got out of a jam in the first inning after allowing a single to Abreu and walking Jason Giambi. Bedard struck out Rodriguez looking at a 95-mph outside to end the frame.

The strikeout of Rodriguez started a string in which Bedard would retire 11 straight New York hitters, keeping the game scoreless heading into the fifth.

But that changed when Millar ripped a Mussina pitch over the left-field fence in the fifth. Millar's home run was his second in as many games and his 10th of the season.

Bedard had retired 11 straight when Jorge Posada beat out an infield single with one out in the fifth. Wilson followed by dump ing a single into shallow right-center. However, Bedard got out of it unscathed, striking out rookie Melky Cabrera on a high fastball after falling behind 2-0, and then inducing Damon to hit a come-backer.

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