The best thing to happen to the Orioles last night was the rain that interrupted the game after the third inning. But then it stopped, which was definitely the worst possible scenario.
When play resumed, Danny Tartabull turned Camden Yards into his own playground as the Yankees rained hits in every direction while thrashing the Orioles, 16-4.
By the time the long night came to a merciful conclusion, Tartabull had personally accounted for more than twice as many runs as the Orioles.
The Yankees right fielder lofted a pair of home runs, his 20th and 21st of the season, and added a double and two singles for the first five-hit game of his career. In the process he drove in a staggering total of nine runs, the most ever allowed in a game by the Orioles and two shy of the American League record set by the Yankees' Tony Lazzeri in 1936.
The last player to drive in nine runs in a game was Chris James, who did it for Cleveland on May 4, 1991, at Oakland. James was the first player with nine RBI since Eddie Murray in 1985.
In addition to suffering their third straight loss, the Orioles also took a double beating in the standings. They fell to 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, and had their lead over the third-place Milwaukee Brewers reduced to two games.
Arthur Rhodes (5-5) was charged with the loss, but five other pitchers participated in the carnage. Scott Sanderson (12-9) was the beneficiary of the Yankees' 20-hit attack, breezing through seven innings while allowing only four hits.
The amazing thing about Tartabull's stunning performance was the fact that he didn't even play the entire game. Yankees manager Buck Showalter removed him after the eighth inning, costing Tartabull another at-bat and a possible shot at Lazzeri's record.
"To me it [the record] doesn't make a difference," said Tartabull. "The score is the most important part. Buck was just looking out for me. You don't want to get hurt in a game like this."
Orioles manager Johnny Oates can be forgiven if he isn't looking forward to another confrontation with Tartabull. "In all honesty, there was so much going on out there I didn't know who was doing what," said Oates. "I know he hit one to right and one to left, but I don't know what he did in between."
It didn't take long for the Yankees to give the Orioles a clue. The last time they faced Rhodes (July 29) the rookie pitched his only major-league shutout.
In that game he allowed only five hits. Last night, making his first start in 10 days, Rhodes gave up that many in 2 1/3 innings and made an early departure.
"For where he is in his career, maybe he's not a guy who can spot start," Oates admitted later. "From what I've seen he's a guy who has pitched more consistent when he's out there on a regular basis."
From the outset last night, it was obvious that Rhodes was not at his best. Bernie Williams opened the game with a single, stole second and scored on Tartabull's two-out single. The Orioles matched that run in the second on a walk to Cal Ripken, a single by Sam Horn and a sacrifice fly by Chito Martinez, but the Yankees answered quickly with four runs in the third.
Storm Davis replaced Rhodes and promptly gave up Tartabull's first homer of the night, a towering fly ball onto the pavilion beyond right field. That completed the Yankees' damage for the inning -- but hardly the game.
Joe Orsulak provided a glimmer of hope for the Orioles, with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third, after which the game was delayed by rain for 43 minutes. As soon as play resumed, so did the Yankees' hit parade.
A single by Jim Leyritz and a double by Pat Kelly accounted for a run in the fourth, doubles by Don Mattingly and Tartabull plus singles by Roberto Kelly and Mike Stanley added three in the fifth and Tartabull drove in two more with a long single in the sixth.
By then it was 11-3 and the only people counting were those running the scoreboard -- and they still had some work to do.
If there was a plus for the Orioles, and this would be stretching a point, it was the fact that Oates got a chance to use the relievers who had been inactive during the recent strong stretch by the starters. The results are hardly worth noting. Davis, who hadn't pitched since Aug. 23, showed effects of the layoff, giving up four hits and three runs in 1 2/3 innings. Bob Milacki, who hadn't pitched since beating Oakland a week ago, was tagged for six hits and four runs in the two innings he worked after replacing Davis in the fifth.
Left-hander Jim Poole, making his first appearance of the year afterbeing recalled from Rochester, pitched a scoreless seventh inning, but Mike Flanagan wasn't as fortunate in the eighth.
Appearing in his first game in 20 days, Flanagan gave up a pair of ground ball singles to Velarde and Kevin Maas before Tartabull put an exclamation point on his evening with a three-run homer to left.