Orioles manager Mike Hargrove had a piece of hate mail on his desk yesterday, but not the kind of hate mail he might expect in the last month of a lost season with his job on the line.
The writer was a Boston Red Sox fan, and his handwritten remarks actually made Hargrove laugh. The letter ripped him for overseeing a club that leads its season series against the Red Sox but has fallen on its face against the New York Yankees.
And yes, the writer actually referred to Jack Cust, though not by name, for his "infamous" collapse in front of home plate against the Yankees on Aug. 16.
Hargrove rather enjoyed the one-page rant. It gave him a rare moment of levity during a very stressful time, but his smile was long gone last night after the Yankees had finished crushing his Orioles, 13-1, before 27,335 at Camden Yards.
"They have a lineup that is very explosive," Hargrove said, "and they showed it."
With 11 of their final 14 games coming against New York and Boston, the Orioles have a chance to wreak havoc in the American League East race, but last night they were little more than a bug on the Yankees' windshield.
New York hit a season-high six home runs, including two by Alfonso Soriano and two by Aaron Boone, and the Yankees also pulled off a rare feat after a 49-minute rain delay in the fourth inning.
In a span of five pitches, they scored five runs off Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez.
That's right. Five pitches, five runs.
Some pitchers couldn't do that if they tried. Lopez (7-10) keeps finding new and interesting ways to plow through a season remarkable for its inconsistency.
Since Aug. 23, he has two complete-game victories - one over these same Yankees, and one against Oakland. But in the same stretch of time, he's also endured three of his most unsightly starts of an Oriole. His combined stats from those three games against Boston, Oakland and New York: 12 2/3 innings, 28 hits, 21 runs.
Lopez offered a preview for the fourth-inning scoring frenzy, when he served up a home run to Soriano with his first pitch of the game. It was Soriano's 11th leadoff homer of the season, pulling him within one of the major league record Brady Anderson set with the Orioles in 1996.
The Yankees were ready to feast, but Lopez settled in, and the Orioles even came back and tied the game in the third on an RBI by Jerry Hairston.
After twisting his right ankle on the mound in the first inning, Lopez retreated to the trainer's room to have it taped after the second and was late going out to the mound for the third.
Lopez later said the ankle wasn't a factor. His real problems started in the fourth.
Jason Giambi led off the inning with his 39th home run, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead. It was already raining heavily, but the umpires didn't stop play until there was one out with a runner on first.
After the rain delay, Lopez returned to the mound, and it wasn't the first time this season Hargrove had brought a pitcher back after a long delay. Rick Helling endured two stoppages to defeat the Chicago Cubs on June 12, and Sidney Ponson did the same thing the following night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"Given the same situation, and the same set of circumstances," Hargrove said, "we'd do it again."
Lopez didn't blame the rain for what happened next. "I don't think the delay affected me as much as the pitching conditions," he said. "I was pretty fresh."
He threw his first pitch for a strike, and then Ruben Sierra hit the next pitch for a single. Lopez gathered himself and then threw a slider to Boone, who clobbered the pitch an estimated 375 feet over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.
With New York's lead at 5-1, Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley went to check on Lopez.
"I don't want to make any excuses," Lopez said. "It's just that the mound wasn't dry enough, and it was hard to get support [for his landing foot] on the mound."
Sean Douglass started warming up in the Orioles' bullpen, and Karim Garcia hit the next pitch from Lopez for a single to left. Lopez made one more pitch, and Soriano crushed it over the left-field wall for his 31st homer of the season.
That pretty much sealed it. Unphased by the delay, Andy Pettitte (19-8) held the Orioles to one run on seven hits in six innings.
Somewhere the letter writer must have fumed. His Red Sox were on their way to an 8-2 victory over Tampa Bay, but by that point it was clear, another day was going to pass with the Yankees still leading the division by 5 1/2 games.
The Orioles lead their season series against the Sox 9-8, but they've dropped nine of 13 to the Yankees.