The Orioles scored four runs with Mariano Rivera on the mound Tuesday, then knocked struggling pitcher Jose Contreras out of Wednesday's game with five runs in the first inning, but the New York Yankees found a way to win both games in another three-game sweep.
Should anyone be surprised? Not a bit.
For all the high hopes that the Orioles carried into this season, no one could seriously have believed that they had closed the talent gap with baseball's richest team. No one - not Peter Angelos or Jim Beattie or Mike Flanagan - thought they were even close, or the front office would have done more to improve the pitching staff.
This year was always about developing a staff that could - with one or two major improvements next winter - put the Orioles in position to be a strong AL East contender next year.
If you believed, even for a minute, that a starting rotation that included unpredictable Sidney Ponson and four pitchers with no appreciable major league experience was going to trade blows all year with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, we've got a new version of the Atkins Diet that allows you to throw in unlimited ice cream.
The Yankees lost a couple of great pitchers last year, but they replaced Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte with Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. The Orioles didn't have the surplus talent to deal for even one pitcher of that caliber and still keep their youth movement on track, so they opted to spend heavily on offensive upgrades that made the team far more exciting than it had been the past six years.
The results have been predictable. The Orioles have some major firepower - enough to knock the Yankees back on their heels. There just isn't enough pitching to knock them out.
In each of the first two games, the Orioles struck hard in the first inning, only to give a big portion of their early lead right back. The five-run lead on Wednesday night was down to two runs before Eric DuBose could say "Don't throw anything fat to Gary Sheffield."
Then it was just a matter of a very resourceful team chipping away while its bullpen held the Orioles scoreless for 8 1/3 innings.
The talk shows buzzed. Manager Lee Mazzilli fumed. He even gave his team a post-game lecture after it appeared that the Orioles simply stopped playing good offensive baseball after the big first inning.
That may well have been the case - since the Yankees didn't exactly send the cream of middle relief to the mound over the next six innings - but the fact remains that the Orioles scored 12 runs in the first two games, which would have been enough with an effective starting rotation.
They finally got a strong performance from young Daniel Cabrera on Thursday, but Sheffield chimed in again with a big two-run double, and the Yankees came from behind to go up 6-0 in the season series.
Where Beattie and Flanagan went awry was in the preseason presentation of this much-improved yet flawed product. The decision to use the early months of the 2004 season to audition and evaluate the club's young pitching talent was the right one for the long-term good of the organization, but the failure to prepare the fans for the hard times ahead was a mistake.
Now there is frustration instead of forbearance.
The series was certainly an improvement over the one before, when the Yankees came to Baltimore and scored in double digits three straight games, but this was presented as the year that the Orioles stopped looking for moral victories, when .500 would not be good enough.
It's really the year when the Orioles find out if they are building a truly bright future. If so, .500 will be just fine.