Rodriguez's three-run home run in the ninth inning that collapsed the Orioles' two-run lead was the ultimate punch in the gut.
Convinced that he had been denied a game-ending strikeout on his previous pitch, closer Koji Uehara watched Rodriguez drive his next offering deep into the left-field seats, the homer sending the Orioles to a crushing 4-3 loss and the New York Yankees back into first place before an announced 32,874 on Friday night at Camden Yards.
"I feel bad," Uehara said through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "The pitch before the home run, the fastball inside, I didn't get that call. I guess I wasn't able to start over."
Asked whether he was affected by the 1-2 pitch that umpire Ted Barrett called a ball, Uehara said: "I can't change the results. I'm not going to say anything."
It was a bitter loss for the Orioles, who saw their three-game winning streak end despite another strong start from Kevin Millwood and solo homers from Adam Jones and Robert Andino off Yankees starter A.J. Burnett. Orioles reliever Jim Johnson held a 3-1 lead through the eighth, getting Brett Gardner to ground out to strand two base runners.
In the ninth, Uehara allowed a leadoff single to Jorge Posada on an 11-pitch at-bat. After striking out Derek Jeter looking, Uehara surrendered a single to Curtis Granderson, putting runners on first and second with one out. Mark Teixeira popped out, setting the stage for Rodriguez.
Uehara's first four pitches to Rodriguez were inside fastballs, and the pitcher stared in at Barrett and bent at the knees when the 1-2 pitch was called a ball.
Asked about being a strike away from closing out what would have been their fourth win in the past five games against the Yankees, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, "We may have had it, too."
Millwood, who was watching the ninth inning from the clubhouse, hoping the bullpen would secure just his second win in his past 13 outings, said it was a good pitch, but "you can't fault an umpire for calling a ball a ball."
Rodriguez obviously agreed with Millwood.
"I didn't think it was close. I thought it was a good no-call," Rodriguez said. "From where I was looking, I could see their whole dugout, and their whole dugout literally jumped like out of the dugout hoping or expecting that to be strike three. So they laughed at me and I laughed at them a little.
"It was over the white line. I thought the first pitch was borderline, and he called it a strike. Every pitch after that, I thought it was worse than that."
There was no ambiguity about what happened next. The second Rodriguez made contact, he tossed his at-bat aside and started his home run trot. Uehara, meanwhile, immediately dropped down in a crouch and stayed that way until Rodriguez rounded the bases. Catcher Matt Wieters ultimately walked to the mound to console the Orioles closer, who has converted nine of 11 save opportunities, with both blown saves coming against the Yankees.
On Sept. 8, the Orioles had a chance to finalize a three-game sweep of New York at Yankee Stadium, but Uehara served up a two-run, game-ending homer to Nick Swisher. The Yankees, who regained the top spot in the American League East with the win and the Tampa Bay Rays' loss to the Los Angeles Angels, have won just three of their past 11 games, and two of them were off Uehara.
"It was tough for us," Millwood said. "I felt like we played a pretty solid game all the way around. Koji made some good pitches; it just didn't happen tonight. I think we all feel good when we've got a lead in the ninth and Koji runs out there. We all feel like that he's going to get the job done."
Millwood scattered five hits and four walks over seven innings, recording his sixth quality start in the past eight games and the rotation's ninth in its past 10 outings. The veteran right-hander allowed at least one base runner in all but two of his seven innings, but he consistently worked out of trouble.
That included his escaping a bases-loaded-and-one-out jam in the second inning, though the Yankees scored in that inning on Rodriguez's leadoff homer. That set off some fireworks beyond the center-field wall that were supposed to be reserved for an Orioles homer and for the post-game fireworks display.
"It was a little shocking that we shot off fireworks for an opposing team's home run," Millwood said. "That wasn't the best thing in the world."
Nor was Rodriguez coming up in the ninth inning and sending the thousands of Yankee fans who descended on Camden Yards into a frenzy.
"It's not that I'm going to die from it," Uehara said. "So just start all over tomorrow."