NEW YORK -- The first seven innings yesterday at Yankee Stadium were fairly routine.
It wasn't so much a pitchers' duel as a pitchers' dull: one bases-empty home run apiece given up by starters, Jose Mesa of the Orioles and Melido Perez of the New York Yankees.
Perez wasn't around for the eighth inning, but Mesa was. Relievers John Habyan and Steve Howe shut down the Orioles, but Mesa couldn't do the same to the Yankees. It resulted in a two-run inning for the Yankees and a 3-1 defeat for the Orioles, their second in three games here after a seven-game winning streak.
"Two mistakes on two pitches," Mesa said.
The first mistake Mesa was referring to came with two out in the fourth inning. A 3-2 fastball to Kevin Maas became a game-tying home run to right field, following a shot over the left-field wall by Chris Hoiles in the top of the inning. But the second mistake by Mesa (1-2) was far costlier.
It came after Mesa had surrendered a leadoff single to Andy Stankiewicz in the eighth. After getting Don Mattingly to fly out weakly to right, Mesa went ahead 1-2 on Roberto Kelly. Trying to pitch Kelly outside, Mesa put a fastball over the heart of the plate.
"I was surprised he gave me a good pitch to hit," said Kelly, whose drive to right-center went over Mike Devereaux's head and hit the base of the wall. "I thought I hit the ball a little farther, but I guess I hit it far enough."
Stankiewicz, who hesitated briefly after thinking that Devereaux was going to run it down, scored the go-ahead run. Bill Ripken's relay throw bounced in the dirt beside home plate and went all the way to the backstop -- Kelly advanced to third, then scored on Mel Hall's sacrifice fly -- as Mesa failed to back up Hoiles.
"Another mistake," said Mesa.
Mesa's mistakes followed a load of missed opportunities for the Orioles. Joe Orsulak was stranded after doubling off Hall's glove with one out in the second. Devereaux struck out to end a threat in the fifth. Cal Ripken was left at second after a leadoff double in the sixth. The Orioles also were robbed twice on sparkling plays by Yankees right fielder Dion James.
"Mesa pitched well, but we didn't hit the ball when we had the opportunities," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates, whose team slipped a game behind the second-place Yankees. "I guess we can't expect our 8-9-1 hitters to do it all the time. Everybody has to do it."
Said Tim Hulett, who struck out twice and went 0-for-4: "That's one thing we've been doing well, getting two-out RBI. That's something we didn't do well today."
But the game was still tied going into the eighth. After Habyan walked Devereaux leading off, the former Oriole nearly picked Devereaux off twice and kept him close enough to first that he was forced out on Cal Ripken's fielder's-choice grounder to third.
In came Howe. Despite his off-field problems -- he is up on cocaine-related charges in Montana -- Howe has been a force out of the bullpen for the Yankees. He was one yesterday, retiring five straight Orioles to pick up his team-high third victory. He also has two saves in six appearances.
Oates pinch hit Mark McLemore for designated hitter Sam Horn.
"My whole concentration was on that guy," Howe said of switch-hitter McLemore, who flied out to right field. "I don't care if he hasn't been in the big leagues very long. He's up here for a reason."
McLemore has been productive, and Horn already had struck out twice and popped up to the catcher before the left-hander entered the game. Oates decided against using Randy Milligan too soon after last week's concussion.
"I don't feel handicapped," said Oates, who had said that Milligan could be used in emergency situations. "McLemore has been driving the ball good. We're not [pinch] hitting for a lot of people these days."
In the Yankees eighth, Oates was not so quick to make a move.
"The only reason I didn't bring in [Todd] Frohwirth to face Kelly is because I didn't want Stankiewicz to steal a base with one out," said Oates. "He [Mesa] was still pitching well. He just got two strikes on Kelly, then threw one down the middle. He hit into the gap."
Said Mesa: "Sometimes you score a couple of runs and you win. Sometimes you pitch well and you make a mistake and you lose."