When the Orioles and Yankees open a three-game series in New York tonight, it will feature a duel of left-handers who don't have a lot in common.
Jim Abbott (4-2, 2.98) is a hard thrower who has been dominant against the Orioles in the past, with a 6-1 career record. As a contrast, Jamie Moyer (1-2, 5.91) is a soft-tosser who is looking for his first career win against the Yankees.
First place will be at stake during the series, but it won't be available to the Orioles. The Red Sox took care of that piece of business with a 3-2 win last night at Camden Yards. That win moved the Red Sox to within a half-game of the division-leading Yankees, and left the third-place Orioles languishing 3 1/2 games off the pace.
The series against the American League Eastern Division leaders kicks off a nine-game road trip for the Orioles, who are in a stretch that has them playing 12 of 15 games away from home. It also pits two teams that have hit a few potholes lately.
After winning 10 straight to take the division lead, the Yankees lost two in a row to the Minnesota Twins, who had previously swept three games from the Orioles. Since capping a 16-6 run by winning three straight from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles did a quick turnaround and have lost five of their past six.
The main focus for the Orioles this weekend will be finding a way to control the left-handed hitters in the Yankees' lineup. Paul O'Neill has been doing his impression of the 1993 John Olerud by leading the major leagues with a monstrous .455 batting average. Don Mattingly has been his usual self (.314) and Luis Polonia (.292) can be the offensive catalyst from his leadoff spot in the lineup.
Left-handed pitchers sometimes neutralize O'Neill, and occasionally keep him out of the lineup. That isn't likely to be the case tonight, because Moyer has a tendency to be more effective against right-handed hitters. It could be a factor tomorrow afternoon, when Arthur Rhodes comes off the disabled list.