O's give Yanks a free pass, 4-3

Mazzilli walks 2, Julio walks 2 in 9th to force in winning run, end Orioles' 6-game win streak


September 06, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Needing two more outs to send yesterday's game into extra innings and maybe leave Yankee Stadium with a rare sweep, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli had to pick his poison and hope a winning streak stayed alive.

Pitch to Alex Rodriguez with runners on the corners and the score tied, or order a second intentional walk to load the bases and demand that closer Jorge Julio throw strikes to Jorge Posada.

Mazzilli chose to go after Posada, but he wasn't banking on another walk from Julio, who ran the count full before missing low and giving the New York Yankees a 4-3 victory over the Orioles before 48,252.

It almost seemed anticlimactic, given how the Orioles jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first and scoring chances were frittered away in the late innings before the Yankees manufactured the winning run without getting a hit.

Four walks, one huge decision.

"It was easy," Mazzilli said, "a no-brainer."

The Orioles (63-72) had to be satisfied with going 6-7 on the road trip after losing the first six games. They returned home last night in third place, and still in position to affect the pennant races with the Minnesota Twins and Yankees headed to Camden Yards this week.

"It was pretty dismal after Oakland," said Jay Gibbons, referring to a four-game sweep that began the trip. "Anybody would have taken 6-7."

But it could have been a little better.

Trying for their first three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium since June 1986, the Orioles led 3-0 in the first inning on Rafael Palmeiro's second home run in two days and the 544th of his career.

Then it got messy.

The Orioles ran themselves out of a rally in the seventh and didn't score in the ninth after B.J. Surhoff and Gibbons singled with none out. Their bullpen posted 3 1/3 shutout innings before Julio entered. They just couldn't stop the Yankees from walking all over them in the ninth.

Julio threw six straight balls before pitching coach Ray Miller went to the mound. A wild pitch moved Derek Jeter to second, and Bernie Williams bunted him to third.

Mazzilli ordered an intentional walk to Gary Sheffield, and another to Rodriguez, who was hitting .211 with runners in scoring position and struck out twice yesterday.

"Sheffield's not going to hit and A-Rod's not going to hit," Mazzilli said. "He's one of the best in the game. I don't care what he did today. That's the only way you're going to go."

Posada was 6-for-13 with a homer and 15 RBIs with the bases loaded this season, but he also grounded into 20 double plays, tied with Miguel Tejada for most in the American League. He fell behind 1-2, and Julio threw only sliders until the last pitch, a fastball that was supposed to go middle away but almost bounced in the dirt.

"Not even close," said catcher Javy Lopez.

Julio (2-3), who struck out the side Friday night for his 20th save, said he wanted to face Rodriguez and try for a ground ball. "But I respect the decision of the manager. He's in charge."

Yankees manager Joe Torre didn't second-guess the move from the other clubhouse, which seemed a little more relaxed with New York's lead still at 2 1/2 games in the AL East.

"You still would probably have had to play the infield up and stuff," Torre said. "In spite of [Rodriguez's] struggles with men in scoring position, I'm not sure you really want to put yourself in that situation."

The leadoff walk to Jeter did almost as much damage. "That sets the whole inning up," Mazzilli said. "That first out is always big."

So are blown chances in a tie game, and the Orioles had a few of those.

Yankees starter Javier Vazquez barehanded a hard bouncer from David Newhan in the seventh inning and got Larry Bigbie in a rundown between second and third. Jeter made the tag and threw out Newhan trying for second.

"I took a chance right there," Newhan said. "Late in the game, I probably shouldn't have taken it, but I had a chance if Bigs could have stretched it out maybe one more step." Surhoff and Gibbons opened the ninth with singles off Mariano Rivera (4-1), but they were stranded. Tim Raines Jr., running for Surhoff, reached third base with none out, and after Bigbie struck out, the Yankees were braced for a suicide squeeze with Roberts batting.

Rodriguez kept glancing at Mazzilli and third base coach Tom Trebelhorn for the sign, and he warned Rivera to stay ready. Instead, Newhan tried to push a bunt past Rivera with two outs, but the Yankees' closer made the play.

"I didn't get it quite off the part of the bat where I wanted it," Newhan said, "and the grass here kind of slowed it down."

The Yankees have been trying to speed up and stay ahead of the Boston Red Sox, who won again yesterday. One New York tabloid predicted doom yesterday if they couldn't defeat "putrid" Bruce Chen, making his third start with the Orioles.

Chen might have a stronger adjective for his defense, which handed the Yankees' two unearned runs over his 4 2/3 innings. He left with the score 3-3. The outcome was left to the bullpen, a manager's decision and a closer's inability to throw strikes when it mattered.

"I'm upset," Gibbons said, "but I don't think we necessarily blew the game."

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Terry Mulholland (4-7, 4.90) vs. Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (10-7, 4.69)

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