While everyone kept waiting for the New York Rangers to complete their collapse in the Stanley Cup finals, the Orioles were doing a nice impersonation of a fold of their own at Camden Yards.
Leading 3-2 in the ninth, with their ace closer, Lee Smith, seemingly close to nailing down a win that would have once again tightened the American League East race to one game, the Yankees staged a two-run, ninth-inning rally to win 4-3.
The Orioles, who fell to three games off the pace, came completely unglued, committing two errors in the inning, as Smith, the major league saves leader, blew his second save at home in the last three weeks.
The horrific ninth ruined a stellar relief performance by Mark Eichhorn, who had come in for Mike Oquist and shut the Yankees down for three innings, seemingly putting Oquist in position to get his first win as a starter.
The ninth started with pinch hit ter Daryl Boston lashing a single to left and moving to second on Pat Kelly's sacrifice.
Luis Polonia then hit a high chopper to the mound, which Smith had trouble handling cleanly. He completed the sequence by throwing the ball past first baseman Rafael Palmeiro down the right field line, scoring Boston with the tying run.
Wade Boggs then slapped a single to left, scoring Polonia with the go-ahead run to cap the comeback. Sterling Hitchcock, who retired Brady Anderson and Chris Sabo in the eighth and Palmeiro in the ninth, got the win and Steve Howe earned the save the hard way.
The Orioles tried to conjure up Orioles Magic on a hot summer night with a brief rally in the ninth, as Cal Ripken singled up the middle with one out and moved to third on Leo Gomez's single to right.
However, Steve Howe struck out Harold Baines looking and got Jack Voigt to ground to short to end the game.
Oquist, who had pitched poorly in his first two starts, was much better last night, giving up only two runs and six hits in five innings, though the Yankees had him on the rocks for significant portions of the game.
But thanks to Eichhorn, who allowed an inherited runner to score, but ran his own scoreless innings streak to 20 1/3 innings and Mike Devereaux, who hit his first homer in 130 at-bats, Oquist had a chance to win, until the disastrous ninth.
Oquist, who flirted with trouble throughout the first four innings, allowing at least one runner in all but the second, openly embraced it in the fifth, giving up a leadoff walk to Bernie Williams. Mike Gallego struck out looking, then Pat Kelly slapped a single to right.
Oquist, who shut out the Yankees in seven relief innings on May 21, appeared on the verge of getting out of the jam when he got Luis Polonia to fly out to left, but he walked Wade Boggs to load the bases, then Don Mattingly to force in a run.
to the plate stepped Danny Tartabull, who had a career-high nine RBIs in a game here last September. But he bounced to short to end the inning, and Oquist still had a slender lead.
That slim margin came courtesy of Devereaux, who hadn't homered since he was hit in the face by a pitch from Cleveland's Chad Ogea on May 8.
Devereaux, who had admitted to having the incident on his mind, drove a two-out Mulholland pitch into the ivy just to the right of the center-field bleachers to provide the Orioles with a 2-0 lead and, perhaps, more importantly, give himself a measure of relief.
The Orioles got the run back in the fifth, when for the second straight inning, they pieced together a rally with two out, combining a walk to Leo Gomez and singles by Lonnie Smith and Chris Hoiles for a 3-1 Baltimore lead.
But Oquist got right back into trouble in the sixth, when Paul O'Neill, the American League batting leader, got his first hit of the series, a single to center to lead off the inning, followed by a walk to Jim Leyritz.
That was it for Oquist, who gave way to Mark Eichhorn, who first bobbled, then handled a sharp grounder back up the middle by Williams, which moved the runners up a base.
Gallego grounded up the middle, and second baseman Tim Hulett made a nice backhand stop and throw, with O'Neill scoring to cut the Orioles' lead to 3-2.
Eichhorn ended the inning, taking advantage of home plate umpire Ted Hendry's wide strike zone to strike out Kelly looking on a pitch Hoiles had to lunge for outside the plate.
The Orioles nearly tacked on another run in a two-out situation in the sixth when Sabo singled to center and Palmeiro doubled to left. Third base coach Jerry Narron waved Sabo around and a good relay from Polonia to Gallego to Leyritz nailed the right fielder, who bowled over the New York catcher to no avail.
The Orioles grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the second. Smith, making his first start in 3 1/2 weeks, drew a one-out walk, and moved to third when Hulett singled to center with two out.
Smith scored when Devereaux hit another sharp grounder that slipped under shortstop Gallego's glove into left.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Jim Abbott (6-5, 3.43) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (2-4, 5.54)
Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, not including bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.