O's woes vs. Yanks continue in 9-7 loss

Team is 2-11 against N.Y.

R. Lopez falters in 4th, 5th

August 02, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Orioles were enjoying a two-run lead against the New York Yankees in the fourth inning yesterday, when Jerry Hairston popped to shortstop and slammed his bat in frustration, the impact taking a big chunk out of the grass.

It was almost as if Hairston knew.

Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez had cruised to that point, but these were the Yankees, and too many chances to squish Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez had gone to waste.

Sure enough, Lopez faltered quickly, as New York scored nine runs in two innings and held on for a 9-7 victory before 51,632 at Yankee Stadium.

The Orioles' sudden change of spirits represented a theme throughout the four-game series. After winning Thursday behind a four-hit gem from Sidney Ponson, they wound up dropping the final three games to sink back to a season-worst 11 games under .500, at 46-57.

Temper that talk about a second-half turnaround. The Orioles are 9-9 since the All-Star break and 2-11 on the season against the Yankees.

"Our immediate goal right now is to get back to .500," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli had said before the game. "It seems like we're playing well, but we can't get that seven- or eight-game streak together. You play well, and then you run into good teams."

Lopez (8-7) had won two straight decisions, and he led his previous start in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox when rains came and washed those results away. This time, pitching with more than the usual rest because of the rainout, he said he felt a little too strong and had a hard time commanding his off-speed pitches.

That's not a good feeling against the potent Yankees' offense. Tony Clark, Kenny Lofton and Alex Rodriguez each hit a home run during the pivotal nine-run spurt.

"I didn't change speeds early in the game," Lopez said, "and when I got to the point where I needed to do it, I didn't have it."

But the Orioles had a chance to make this one a shootout in the early innings, and Hernandez kept making big pitches when he needed them.

Hairston led off the first inning with a bloop double, giving the Orioles an early break, but they couldn't capitalize.

Brian Roberts struck out -- the first of nine strikeouts in five innings for Hernandez -- and then Hairston got caught leaning off second base on a grounder to shortstop by Melvin Mora. Derek Jeter fielded the ball and chased Hairston like a cornered mouse.

Rodriguez, the third baseman, took the flip from Jeter and applied the tag, with the impact driving Hairston into the ground, face-first.

"That's a run that we've got to get," Mazzilli said.

Hernandez (3-0) stranded two runners in the second inning and two more in the third after Mora gave the Orioles the lead with a two-out, bases-empty home run.

This is why the Yankees still love Hernandez, who missed all of last season with a torn rotator cuff and returned from the shadows last month to win his first two starts. Far from overpowering, Hernandez relies heavily on guts, and he showed why he became the first pitcher in major league history to win his first eight postseason decisions.

Before Hairston slammed his bat, the Orioles got off to another promising start in the fourth inning, as David Newhan and Larry Bigbie each hit singles.

Robert Machado came to the plate trying to bunt, but pushed one attempt foul before Mazzilli let him swing away. With a full count, Machado took a big swing and whiffed at a Hernandez fastball.

Hairston followed with his weak pop-up to shortstop, and after Roberts made it 2-0 with a two-out single to center, Hernandez struck out Mora to end the inning.

"I had a good at-bat, fouled off some tough pitches and finally got a pitch I could handle," Hairston said. "So I was really disappointed."

Lopez, who struck out five of the first eight batters he faced, lost his touch in the fourth. After Jeter finished an eight-pitch at-bat with a single to center field, Lopez walked Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada to load the bases.

Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller went to the mound and offered encouragement to Lopez, whose pitch count for the inning was already at 23. But Hideki Matsui drilled the next pitch into the left-field corner for a two-run double.

Bernie Williams put the Yankees ahead with an RBI groundout to second, and then Tony Clark crushed his two-run homer about 10 rows into the upper deck in right field. Lopez gave that ball a quick glance but refused to watch it land.

Just like that, New York led 5-2.

Mazzilli left Lopez in the game long enough to give up a leadoff homer to Lofton and a two-run shot to Rodriguez in the fifth. By then it was 8-3.

The Orioles, who also got home runs from Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada, climbed back into the game, forcing Yankees manager Joe Torre to bring on Mariano Rivera for his 38th save.

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