NEW YORK -- Roy Smith knows Yankee Stadium better than anyone, or so he says. He grew up just minutes away. He played youth baseball on the fields across the street. He never dreamed of anything like he dreamed of winning here.
But this particular dream remains elusive.
Smith pitched well yesterday, but not well enough to defeat the streaking New York Yankees, who stole a run in the eighth to score a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in the Independence Day opener of a four-game series.
Third baseman and No. 9 hitter Pat Kelly parlayed a well-placed two-base hit into the go-ahead run, and the Yankees went on to record their sixth victory in a row.
Smith gave up the leadoff double, but it was reliever Todd Frohwirth whose deliberate delivery apparently allowed Kelly to steal third and then score on a ground-ball single through the drawn-up Orioles infield.
Roberto Kelly's bouncer up the middle skipped past a diving Bill Ripken and sent the Orioles to their third straight loss, but it was the double that brought an end to Smith's seven-inning, seven-hit performance and kept him winless where he wants to win the most.
Yankee Stadium giveth and Yankee Stadium taketh away. That's the thing that Smith really knows better than anybody. He got 11 fly outs in the first six innings, using the expansive outfield to his advantage. Then Kelly hit one where they weren't and it would cost Smith a chance to become the winningest pitcher on the Orioles staff.
"Kelly couldn't have hit the ball to a more perfect place," Smith said. "I was real happy with the way I threw. I threw strikes and when they hit the ball, they usually hit it to the big part of the park. But that outfield is just so huge that it's hard to cover all of it."
It wasn't big enough to prevent him from giving up a pair of bases-empty home runs -- one by Mel Hall and the other by Steve Sax -- but Smith isn't a shutout pitcher. Seven innings and three runs is a very respectable performance regardless of the outcome.
"He threw well," manager John Oates said. "He shut those guys down on two solo home runs and they have been swinging the bat. That's a pretty good job."
But not good enough for Smith, who has pitched all or part of eight seasons in the American League without a Yankee Stadium victory.
"I want to win here," Smith said. "I live 15 minutes from here and I've never won here. That's disappointing."
It's not that he has never beaten the Yankees. During his seven-year career with the Minnesota Twins, Smith had a 3-1 career record against the Yankees at home. But he is 0-4 in his hometown, despite a couple of strong performances.
"It's a dream, but it's not an obsession," Smith said. "It's just
something personal. You've got to understand a kid growing up in New York, especially a Yankee fan. I played ball in the Bronx Federation League across the street. I've got a picture of me and my father standing in front of the stadium after one of my games.
"I think about pitching a complete game and walking off the mound with my family in the stands clapping. I'd like my mother to sit in the stands and see me win a game here."
He pitched to the minimum number of batters for the first four innings, giving up only a line-drive single in the third and an infield hit in the fourth. But Hall opened the fifth with a shot to right for his 12th home run of the season. Sax led off the sixth with his fifth of the year.
Sax is not known for his power, but he lined a 3-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers to put the Yankees in front for the first time.
"In a 1-1 ball game, you don't want to walk Steve Sax to lead off the sixth inning," Smith said. "I just wanted to make sure I threw a strike, but it was a bad pitch."
The Orioles had taken the lead in the second inning, scoring a run on three singles off Yankees rookie Jeff Johnson. They came back to tie the game in the seventh on a bases-empty home run by Chris Hoiles.
But alas, Oates fell victim to another one-run defeat. The club is 4-11 in one-run games since he took over as manager on May 23.
Johnson pitched well for the Yankees, giving up six hits over seven innings, Eric Plunk (1-2) got credit for the victory and Lee Guetterman got his fifth save after coming on with a runner at first and no one out in the ninth.
The Yankees have been getting solid performances from several young starters, but Oates wondered aloud whether the Orioles were too aggressive with Johnson.
"I don't know how he did it," Oates said. "I've never seen a guy pitch behind on the count as much as he did and give up just two runs. We had an awful lot of 2-0 counts and didn't hit an awful lot of balls well."