The New York Yankees made their annual visit to the White House yesterday afternoon to accept the congratulations of President Bush for their 2000 world championship.
Compared to that, the mundane trappings of last night's game at Camden Yards probably didn't register on the adrenalin scale, but the Yankees still had enough energy to put the rebuilding Orioles in their place for the second night in a row.
Third baseman Scott Brosius hit a towering home run off rookie reliever Chad Paronto to complete a late-inning comeback that carried the Yankees to a 6-5 victory before a crowd of 43,133.
Brosius' fourth homer of the season broke a 5-5 tie and turned the game over to the stingy Yankees bullpen. Mike Stanton and closer Mariano Rivera did the rest. No recount was required.
Of course, no one should be surprised that the Yankees are positioned to dominate the four-game series. They have won four of the last five world titles and the Orioles are in transition. But the new-look Orioles were hoping to prove that the three-game sweep they pulled off against the Yankees on the final weekend of last season was something more than a fluke.
No such luck.
The Yankees have long made a habit of finding ways to beat the Orioles, even when the Orioles' lineup was chock-full of quality veterans. This year's edition had enough spunk to drive future Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens out of the game in the sixth inning, but did not have enough staying power to close the deal.
Two outfield misplays in the seventh inning allowed the Yankees to close a two-run deficit, but manager Mike Hargrove chose to find a silver lining in another close loss to the Orioles' closest American League rival.
"Going against a guy like Roger Clemens, it would be easy to be intimidated, but our guys came right out and gave a good effort," Hargrove said. "I enjoyed this game tonight. Don't get me wrong. I don't like getting beat, but we played hard tonight."
Orioles right-hander Pat Hentgen can't catch a break. He entered the game with a 1-3 record and a very respectable 3.32 ERA as evidence that the Orioles have not provided him with adequate run support, but could not complain about the offense last night.
First baseman Jeff Conine greeted Clemens with a two-run home run in the first inning and a resourceful Orioles lineup scrapped for five runs and nine hits to knock The Rocket out of the game after 5 2/3 innings.
How much more run support could anyone reasonably expect against one of the greatest power pitchers who ever lived? And yet it would not be enough to get Hentgen his second victory in five decisions.
"We did a nice job," Hentgen said afterward. "I feel bad that we didn't come out ahead, but anytime you get five runs off Roger Clemens, we did a great job offensively. It's just disappointing that we didn't win the game."
The new Orioles ace turned the game over to the bullpen with a two-run lead, only to watch another promising game turn into another in a long series of bitter defeats at the hands of their most bitter rival.
This one turned on the shaky outfield play and equally shaky relief. Left-hander Buddy Groom was both villain and victim in a two-run Yankees rally that tied the game in the seventh.
Outfielders Melvin Mora and Delino DeShields collided at the left-field fence to allow a long fly ball by Paul O'Neill to carom off the wall for a leadoff triple. Right fielder Brady Anderson allowed a soft fly ball by Bernie Williams to fall in front of him, then made a costly throwing error in an ill-advised attempt to gun down O'Neill at the plate.
The throw allowed Williams to move into scoring position and score the tying run on a two-out double by Jorge Posada.
"We work very hard to eliminate mistakes," Hargrove said, "but they crop up every once in a while. We made a couple of mental errors in the seventh inning. We had a miscommunication in center field and the play at home on the base hit. Those are mistakes of being overaggressive. I can live with that. It's better than being tentative. You have places to go with aggressive mistakes. With timid mistakes, there's nowhere to go."
Paronto (1-2) took over in the eighth inning and promptly gave up a leadoff home run to Brosius to put the Yankees in front.
Two games in and the Orioles have been on the wrong end of two deflating defeats. They rode an emotional roller coaster in the opener, rallying from a four-run deficit on Conine's dramatic fifth-inning grand slam, only to watch the game get away on a disputed play that led to Hargrove's ejection.
The game last night didn't register the same level of suspense, but in one way it may have been more disconcerting since the Orioles missed a chance to defeat Clemens and left themselves extremely vulnerable to a four-game sweep.
Andy Pettitte faces hot rookie Willis Roberts in today's game and former Orioles ace Mike Mussina faces Jason Johnson in the series finale tomorrow.
Conine has done everything in his power to change the course of the series, but his two homers and six RBIs only kept things interesting. He nearly brought the Orioles from behind again with a big drive in the eighth inning, but Williams ran it down at the wall in center field.
O'Neill had a chance to make a little history. He got credit for his first triple in nearly two years on the drive that opened the seventh inning and returned to the plate in the eighth needing a home run to hit for the cycle, but his long drive to center field was caught by Mora at the fence.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Andy Pettitte (3-3, 3.05) vs. Orioles' Willis Roberts (4-0, 1.95)