NEW YORK -- Jeff Ballard was headed for Big Sky country, but he needed a big effort to get to the airport on time. That he is in Montana this morning is a testament to his efficient performance yesterday at Yankee Stadium.
The series finale was delayed by rain for nearly an hour, which endangered the All-Star break travel arrangements of several players. Manager John Oates said before the game that everyone would have to stay until game's end, but Ballard persuaded him to make an exception with a strong, seven-inning performance in the Baltimore Orioles' 5-3 victory over the New York Yankees.
Ballard took a bid for a perfect game into the fifth inning and gave up two runs on four hits to earn his fifth victory and his first in more than three weeks. Mike Flanagan and Gregg Olson finished, and the Orioles escaped from New York with a split of the four-game series.
That had to make the flight home a lot more enjoyable for Ballard, though it couldn't have been much of a treat for whoever was sitting next to him on the plane.
"I told him not to take a shower if he was going to cut it too close," Oates said.
It was an important game for Ballard, who had looked very hittable in his previous two appearances. He gave up nine runs in the first inning of a June 26 start against the Cleveland Indians and surrendered two in the first inning of a 5 2/3 -inning, four-run performance against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
This time, he retired the first 12 Yankees he faced before he faltered in the fifth inning and gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. He settled down to retire seven of the last eight batters he faced before making a mad -- for La Guardia Airport.
He needed that kind of game to close out an otherwise frustrating first half.
"What do you mean, he needed an outing like that?" Oates said. "I needed an outing like that -- low hits, kept us in the ballgame, went seven innings. I still don't think he mixed his speeds as well as he did in spring training, but he was able to stay down, and he had good movement on his fastball."
Ballard (5-9) still has a long way to go to make this a respectable season, but it is not out of the question. He has given up more than four earned runs only twice this season, but he has not been the beneficiary of tremendous offensive support.
"From a team perspective, it was important to get that kind of game from Ballard," said teammate Cal Ripken, who headed for Toronto last night to represent the Orioles in the All-Star Game. "It also was good to see us get some runs for him."
While the Yankees were scratching for their first hit of the game, the Orioles were piling up base hits against rookie starter Wade Taylor. The Yankees turned double plays in the first two innings to keep the game scoreless, but Mike Devereaux gave the Orioles the lead with a two-run homer to center in the third, and Sam Horn made it a three-run inning with an RBI double.
It was Devereaux's 10th homer of the season, which takes him into the break just two shy of equaling his career high. He also has 26 RBI, fourth on the club.
The Orioles held the lead at some point in all four games of the series, but the Yankees threatened to make their third successful comeback when Ballard struggled briefly in the fifth.
Jesse Barfield and Hensley Meulens singled and Matt Nokes walked to load the bases with one out before newcomer Bernie Williams brought home a run with a sacrifice fly and Pat Kelly followed with an RBI single.
But the Orioles combined to give Ballard a little extra cushion in the sixth. Leo Gomez opened the inning with a double to left, and Chris Hoiles knocked Taylor out of the game with a single to center. Gomez scored when Bill Ripken hit into a double play against John Habyan.
Hoiles drove in an insurance run in the eighth with a double to left-center. Both runs would turn out to be important, since the Yankees threatened to come back in the ninth inning.
Olson recorded his 17th save, but not before giving up a run and bringing the potential winning run to the plate with two out. Kelly ended the game with a fly ball to right, and the Orioles closed the first half of the season in a positive fashion.
But it was not a very positive first half. The club will come out of the break in sixth place, 14 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Orioles have won 10 of their past 16, but have lost three games to the lead in that period.
Orioles third: B. Ripken singled to right. Devereaux homered to center on 2-1 count, B. Ripken and Devereaux scored. Orsulak singled to right. C. Ripken grounded out to third baseman P. Kelly, Orsulak to second. Horn doubled to left, Orsulak scored. Milligan lined out to center fielder Williams. Martinez
flied out to center fielder Williams. 3 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 3, Yankees 0.