Over the last five weeks of the season, the Orioles are preparing to get a look at some of their younger players, thrusting them into different situations to see how they respond. Kam Mickolio got a big opportunity last night, and he very much showed his age.
Brought on in the eighth inning with the Orioles trying to protect a one-run lead, Mickolio, a 24-year-old reliever making just his second major league appearance, threw his first pitch to the backstop, enabling Bobby Abreu to score from third with the tying run. Xavier Nady then hit a go-ahead RBI single off Mickolio, and the New York Yankees piled on from there to take a 9-4 victory before an announced 43,543 last night at Camden Yards.
"There's an example where you're squeezing guys into situations for the most part they haven't been before," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "You're either squeezing, trying to get more out of somebody or you're putting guys in situations earlier than you like."
The Yankees tacked on four more runs in the ninth with Cody Ransom (a three-run shot) and Nady (a solo homer) connecting for back-to-back homers off Fernando Cabrera, the second time New York hit consecutive homers in the game. Robinson Cano and Jose Molina did it in the fifth inning off Radhames Liz to tie the score at 3, with Cano's shot going off the awning of Boog's Barbecue on Eutaw Street.
"They had 'hit me' stamped on them," Trembley said of the home run balls. "The ones Cabrera threw at the end might have had 'double hit me' on them. They just hung there."
The Orioles (61-66) led 3-1 after four innings and 4-3 after seven before the Yankees (68-60) took advantage of a bullpen that is without All-Star closer George Sherrill. Entering the decisive eighth inning, the Orioles bullpen had thrown 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Liz, who made his return to the rotation and allowed three earned runs and nine hits over 4 2/3 innings.
With Jim Johnson, the club's normal eighth-inning pitcher, pushed into the closer's role in the absence of Sherrill, Jamie Walker started the eighth inning and allowed a leadoff single to Abreu (who went 5-for-5) and a double to Alex Rodriguez.
Walker got Jason Giambi to pop out before Trembley brought in Mickolio to face Nady. The game plan was to bust Nady inside, but Mickolio's first pitch was well wide and beyond catcher Ramon Hernandez's reach. It took a favorable bounce off the backstop, but Abreu was still able to beat Mickolio's tag.
"It was supposed to be a sinker, and it just bounced," Hernandez said. " He just spiked it."
Later in the at-bat, Nady lined Mickolio's two-strike pitch into right field to break the tie at 4.
"I was feeling more relaxed than I did in my debut a couple nights ago," Mickolio said. "It is a really tough situation to come into, but as a relief pitcher, you live for that, I guess. You just try to come through in those situations, and I just wasn't able to tonight."
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera got the last four outs for his 29th save. The Orioles, who got two RBIs each from Hernandez and Aubrey Huff, didn't have a hit after taking a 4-3 lead in the sixth on Hernandez's sacrifice fly off former Oriole Mike Mussina.
Seeking to move one step closer to the first 20-win season of his storied career, Mussina was denied by his former team. He allowed four earned runs and nine hits and left the game after the sixth inning with the Yankees down by a run. In three starts against the Orioles this season, Mussina is 0-2 with an 8.49 ERA and has surrendered 22 hits in 11 2/3 innings.
But denying him victory was no consolation to the Orioles.
"I went through this in Tampa for the longest time," Huff said. "You have to succeed or fail. You have to keep these guys in there and let them play and develop confidence. That's the only way younger guys get better."