With the man who will pick the American League All-Star pitching staff sitting in the opposing dugout, Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez had a chance to make an impression last night.
It turned out to be an impression Lopez would rather forget, even if he did pitch better than six-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.
Lopez allowed six runs and Clemens allowed seven runs, as the Orioles and New York Yankees engaged in an old-fashioned slugfest before the two bullpens took over for a dramatic finish.
The Orioles made three comebacks and blew two leads before Tony Batista finally gave them an 8-7 victory with a run-scoring single in the ninth inning before 42,670 at Camden Yards.
Batista's single off Yankees reliever Steve Karsay found the hole between third and shortstop, and Gary Matthews raced home from second, sliding ahead of left fielder Rondell White's throw and getting mobbed by his teammates.
Orioles reliever Willis Roberts (5-2) pitched out of two huge jams in the eighth and ninth innings. The Yankees had runners on first and second with no outs in the eighth, but Jorge Posada grounded into a double play, and Roberts struck out Rondell White to end that threat.
Roberts, doing everything short of a cartwheel to celebrate each out, faced even more trouble in the ninth. The Yankees had runners at the corners with no outs and the top of the order coming up. But Alfonso Soriano struck out, Derek Jeter grounded to shortstop Mike Bordick, whose throw to the plate was in time to nab Nick Johnson, and Jason Giambi grounded to first, ending the inning.
The Orioles extended their winning streak to four games, pulling within one game of .500 at 37-38. They are 4-0 in games started by Clemens this season, and 6-5 against the Yankees.
Matthews, Jay Gibbons and Chris Singleton each had home runs against Clemens, who has given up five homers against the Orioles this season and three against everyone else.
Lopez entered with decent All-Star credentials, including a 2.70 ERA that ranked third best in the American League. After starting the season 5-0, he has fallen to 6-3, but in four of the starts he didn't earn a victory, he allowed a total of five runs.
One problem for Lopez is the schedule. Yankees manager Joe Torre, picking his fifth All-Star team, has a rule against selecting pitchers who pitch their team's final game before the Midsummer Classic.
Torre's selections will be announced Sunday, and unless Orioles manager Mike Hargrove alters his rotation, Lopez is to pitch the last game before the break, July 7 at Texas.
Whether all this was weighing on Lopez's mind is uncertain, but he wound up turning in his worst start of the season. The six earned runs were a season high and lifted his ERA to 3.11.
The Yankees scored two in the first, two in the fourth and two in the sixth. Rondell White hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, and Jorge Posada broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run homer in the sixth.
After that pitch, a belt-high 2-2 fastball, Lopez walked behind the mound and took off his glove in disgust.
But the Orioles came right back to take the lead with three runs in the sixth, as Bordick, Melvin Mora and Brian Roberts delivered run-scoring hits. In the seventh, with Lopez in line for the victory, the Yankees capitalized on an error by Orioles reliever Yorkis Perez to tie the game 7-7.
Perez, who was promoted from Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday, got Nick Johnson to ground to first baseman Gibbons but failed to catch the throw from Gibbons as he approached first base. Johnson later scored on a run-scoring single by Soriano.
Clemens came into the game banged up. In his previous start, June 20 at Colorado, he went just four innings and left after getting drilled twice on balls hit back to the mound, once in the right forearm and once in the kidney area.
After getting two quick outs in the first, Clemens served up a fastball for Matthews, who hit a 408-foot home run to right field.
Then came the highly anticipated matchup of Clemens vs. Batista. Granted, this wasn't Clemens vs. Mike Piazza or Clemens vs. Shawn Estes, but the Orioles had a feeling Clemens would seek revenge against Batista, who has two home runs against him this season, including an Opening Day grand slam.
Clemens threw a first pitch breaking ball on the inside corner for a strike, and then threw a chest-high fastball that grazed Batista for a free pass. If it was indeed a purpose pitch, it proved costly because Gibbons sent Clemens' next pitch over the left-center-field fence.