NEW YORK - With little else to look forward to before putting the baseball gear away for a while and beginning the process of erasing a last-place season from their memories, the Orioles were thrilled they were the opposition the weekend Yankee Stadium closes.
So many of the Orioles had experienced so much pain and suffering here over the years, and what better way to bid their goodbyes? Manager Dave Trembley went as far to say the Orioles, who are used to being irrelevant at this point of the year, could salvage what is left of their season by taking the series against the New York Yankees and delivering the final blow to their already faint playoff hopes.
The Orioles didn't win the series opener last night, but they still left with some optimism. That's because of another encouraging outing from rookie right-hander Radhames Liz, who turned in a second straight quality start for the first time in his career in the Orioles' 3-2 loss before an announced 54,136.
"He's shown us what we've been hopeful to see all year from him," Trembley said. "This is a good time for him to leave on a real good note. Obviously, our needs are pitching, and he's setting himself up to be thought of very favorably."
It was the Orioles' third straight defeat and their 20th loss in the past 25 games, and it assures they will not win the season series against the Yankees (83-71) for an 11th consecutive season. By winning the final two games of the series, the Orioles (67-85) could still tie the season series at nine, which they accomplished last year. It was also their eighth straight defeat in a one-run game, dropping them to 2-18 in such contests since June 18.
The Orioles, who scored two early runs before being shut down by Carl Pavano and the Yankees' bullpen, put men on first and third bases with two outs in the ninth inning against closer Mariano Rivera. However, Brian Roberts hit Rivera's first pitch skyward, and it came down between home plate and the pitcher's mound and into the glove of catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
It was the latest missed opportunity for a scuffling Orioles team that watched rookie center fielder Brett Gardner throw out Nick Markakis at the plate to cut down one run in the first inning and jump the wall to rob Luke Scott of a homer in the fourth. Shortstop Derek Jeter also made a nice play in the hole to take away a potential leadoff hit in Rivera's otherwise rocky ninth.
"Like I said, god almighty's a Yankee fan," Scott said. "They made some great plays tonight. Tip your hat to them."
It was catcher Ramon Hernandez's failure to come up with Liz's bouncing curveball in the fifth that pushed across the go-ahead run for the Yankees as Johnny Damon came in from third.
Aside from the wild pitch and Robinson Cano's solo homer in the third, Liz (6-6) was mostly in control in a challenging environment.
"You're not going to get any better experience on all fronts than coming into Yankee Stadium," Trembley said. "You got to deal with a lot of things. I think you find out a lot about yourself."
Liz certainly wasn't as sharp as he was in his previous start, when he held the Minnesota Twins to five hits and a walk while striking out four over eight shutout innings. He allowed 11 base runners over 6 1/3 innings last night. However, he mostly made quality pitches when he had to, avoiding a big inning.
"My last outing at home really showed me the potential that I have," Liz said through translator Juan Samuel, the Orioles' third base coach. "I always knew I had it, but my confidence wasn't there. That last outing at home gave me a lot of confidence, built me up and helped me get through this outing tonight."