As their lead slowly deteriorated through the middle innings last night, the Orioles couldn't help but bite their lips and think about the challenge they have facing them to finish the season.
Of their final 42 games, 14 of them come against the New York Yankees.
And if they all go like this, it could be a long, miserable trek.
The banged-up Orioles took an early two-run lead against Andy Pettitte, only to see it spoil when Damian Moss and Eric DuBose struggled with control problems. The Yankees went ahead, and Hideki Matsui made a spectacular running catch, preserving their 8-5 victory before 41,987 at Camden Yards.
After getting swept in three games at Tampa Bay, the Orioles saw their losing streak reach four games with this agonizing 3-hour, 31-minute marathon, further distancing themselves from the positive momentum they built last weekend in Boston.
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove counted up his pitchers' damning numbers after the game - six walks and two hit batsmen - and said, "That's a tough way to go, especially against a team like the Yankees."
Like the rest of the Orioles, Moss better get used to seeing the Yankees.
He's on schedule to face them three more times before the season ends, and he didn't exactly dazzle last night, despite leaving with a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning.
Moss was in line for his first victory in three starts since coming to the Orioles in the trade that sent Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants, but he walked the final two batters he faced, continuing an ugly trend.
In 18 2/3 innings with the Orioles, Moss has walked 13 batters, including four against the Yankees. Moss didn't blame last night's 95-degree heat or stifling humidity, saying, "I just didn't make quality pitches."
He put Matsui and Aaron Boone on with free passes to start the sixth inning before Hargrove turned to DuBose, who induced a quick double-play ball and escaped the inning with the two-run lead still intact.
But DuBose (1-2), who entered with a 2.05 ERA, wasn't as fortunate in the seventh. Alfonso Soriano doubled off the left-field wall, and then DuBose loaded the bases, hitting Derek Jeter with a pitch and walking Jason Giambi.
"I guess I might have let my guard down a little bit," DuBose said. "I just didn't make my pitches that second inning."
With the switch-hitting Bernie Williams coming to the plate, Hargrove summoned right-hander Hector Carrasco. Two pitches later, the score was tied, as Williams hit a two-run single up the middle.
There were still no outs, and the Yankees reloaded the bases on an error by Orioles first baseman Jose Leon, who is filling in while Jeff Conine recovers from bursitis in his right biceps.
B.J. Ryan came in and limited the damage to one run, but the Yankees grabbed the lead on a sacrifice fly by Matsui, with Orioles left fielder Larry Bigbie catching the ball in foul territory.
The Orioles still had time to come back. With two outs in the seventh, they had runners at first and second when Matsui made the defensive play of the game. Bigbie drove a ball to deep left field, and Matsui chased it onto the warning track, reaching out for the catch just before he crashed into the wall.
"It was unbelievable," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "You talk about a play that could start a winning streak, and that catch was one of them."
Matsui's hat flew off his head, but he held on, drawing applause from thousands of Yankees fans who helped fill the stands. With Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff charging around the bases, the Orioles could have scored two runs and taken the lead.
"I touched first base and saw him on the ground," Bigbie said. "I'm surprised he caught it. I knew it was tailing, and I didn't think he was going to get it."
Mariano Rivera recorded the final four outs for his 24th save. Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer off Kerry Ligtenberg in the ninth inning, giving Rivera some extra breathing room.
Pettitte (14-7) went six-plus innings for the victory, improving to 17-4 for his career against the Orioles. Tony Batista hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning - his 21st of the season - and Brian Roberts added a bases-empty shot in the fifth, but once again, the Orioles couldn't hold the lead.
Moss, who is 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts, will have to hope for better next time, which will probably be Wednesday against Tampa Bay.
"I don't think tonight was one of his better efforts," Hargrove said. "He kept us in the ballgame, but it was a struggle for him, and I think the heat and humidity really got him."
Opponent:New York Yankees
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Roger Clemens (11-7, 3.68) vs. Orioles' Jason Johnson (10-5, 3.83)