The momentum that the Orioles built over the past two nights started to fade with each Daniel Cabrera pitch in the first two innings yesterday, setting an ominous tone on the final day of a hugely successful homestand.
When Cabrera wasn't walking New York Yankees, he was giving up searing line drives. When he wasn't throwing his pitches high, wide or in the dirt, he was placing them right over the plate, an open-ended invitation for the Yankees to break from their slump.
Cabrera eventually righted himself, but his early control problems extended to the Orioles' bullpen, which allowed the Yankees to pull away for a 10-6 victory before an announced 47,936 at Camden Yards, the third consecutive sellout.
Even after Cabrera put the Orioles in a four-run hole by the second inning and even after the Yankees broke the game open with a five-run eighth inning, the Orioles had the potential tying run in the on-deck circle, but Mariano Rivera struck out Chris Gomez to end it.
"I think everybody ought to feel real proud of the way we played and the amount of improvement that's occurred here, the fact that this game was not a giveaway," interim manager Dave Trembley said. "We came back every time. They went to No. 42 [Rivera] in the ninth. That ought to tell you something."
The defeat ended the Orioles' six-game winning streak and their eight-game home winning streak. They finished 5-1 on their homestand and will get today off before starting a three-game series tomorrow at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.
They were beaten by the Yankees for just the third time in nine games, victimized by a New York offense that had done nothing against Orioles pitching in the series until their ninth-inning outburst off Cory Doyne on Saturday.
But after a 42-minute rain delay, the Yankees scored a run in the first and three more in the second before Cabrera got on track, and they never trailed again. They tied season highs with nine walks and eight doubles.
The Orioles did keep Alex Rodriguez in the ballpark, as the Yankees slugger was 0-for-2 with an RBI and three walks and remained one away from his milestone 500th home run. He was 0-for-8 in the series, but that was little more than a moral victory for Orioles pitchers, who walked nine in a game for the third time this season.
"When you play a team of that caliber and a lineup of that caliber, you can't give that many free passes," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "That's true across the board no matter who you play, but certainly against a lineup of that caliber."
Roberts was 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and three RBIs, but it was the hit that he didn't get that several Orioles agreed was the key play in yesterday's game.
The Orioles had already scored two runs in the fourth on Luis Hernandez's two-out, bases-loaded single off an uncharacteristically wild Chien-Ming Wang, cutting the Yankees' lead to 4-2. With runners on first and third, Roberts hit a shot toward left-center field. But on a dead sprint, left fielder Johnny Damon, who has essentially lost his starting center-field spot to Melky Cabrera, ran it down on the warning track.
"I thought that was a double - game tied," Roberts said. "That's what happens when you have a center fielder playing left field."
Catcher Paul Bako called it a "momentum-buster."
"Heck, if they don't have a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder playing left field, [Roberts'] ball definitely goes in," said Bako, who was 1-for-1 with four walks. "It's a matter of whether he hits a double or a triple. ... That was a game-breaker."
The Orioles (49-55) still had chances after the catch as Roberts' sixth-inning RBI single cut New York's lead to 4-3. Aubrey Huff, who is just 14-for-84 (.167) since hitting for the cycle on June 29, again brought the Orioles within a run by scoring Nick Markakis (3-for-5) with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.
But the Yankees (56-49) scored five in the eighth, as Paul Shuey walked two and gave up an RBI double to Damon. Danys Baez then allowed all three of the runners he inherited to score.
Cabrera (7-11) surrendered four earned runs on six hits and five walks, while striking out five. He did finish his outing with four scoreless innings, his latest outing where he's gotten off to a rocky beginning and then stabilized.
"It's just a coincidence," Bako said of the pattern. "He made every single pitch in the bullpen, kind of like he did the last three or four innings he threw. He was obviously a little out of the zone, but facing a team like the Yankees - they have professional hitters one through nine - made it a little tougher with Daniel not having his pinpoint control."
Cabrera finished the month with a 1-3 record and a 5.25 ERA. On this day, he never really gave the Orioles a chance to build off the momentum that they rode the previous two evenings.
"Every time I go out there, I try to win and every time I don't win, I'm disappointed," Cabrera said. "If you win, 25 guys are happy. If you lose, everybody doesn't have a good time."