Yanks' rally falls in on O's

Double lost in sun, 3-run HR leave Orioles with 8-5 defeat

New O's relievers drop ball for Chen

Kline: `I've been horrendous'

5-1 lead on Johnson vanishes

April 10, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Orioles reliever Steve Kline tugged on the bill of his cap, licked the fingers on his left hand, shook his head in disgust. He forced a smile, no words coming to him. He was alone on the mound, alone with his thoughts, trying so hard to block out the noise around him.

Squeezing a new baseball, Kline wondered how a game had slipped so easily from his grasp. A pop-up isn't caught, a pitch catches too much of the strike zone, and a win dissolves into a loss.

Maybe it wasn't that complex after all.

Batting around in the seventh inning, the New York Yankees used a game-tying, bloop double by Hideki Matsui and a three-run homer by Ruben Sierra to rally past the Orioles, 8-5, and leave their bullpen in tatters.

Kline and Steve Reed, free-agent acquisitions over the winter, surrendered all five runs in the seventh. Reed, charged with the first three in two-thirds of an inning, has posted a 13.50 ERA this season. Kline, signed to a two-year deal, has a 23.14 ERA and a trunk full of anger and frustration.

"I can't explain anything right now," he said. "I'm a little bitter."

The Orioles scored five runs (four earned) off Randy Johnson, matching the number of Cy Young awards he has won, in six innings. They led 5-3 going into the seventh, and left-hander Bruce Chen stood to win his first start of 2005 after holding the Yankees to two earned runs, mostly with a changeup that often registered at 74 mph.

Reed walked Tony Womack with one out and allowed a single to Derek Jeter. Gary Sheffield singled with two outs to score Womack, and Mazzilli called upon Kline to face the left-handed-hitting Matsui.

With the count at 2-2, Matsui lifted a fly ball along the left-field line. B.J. Surhoff and shortstop Miguel Tejada gave chase, but it landed a few inches in fair territory and bounced into the seats for a ground-rule double.

Sierra crushed the next pitch from Kline, a fastball that he seemed to be waiting for, and the Yankees had their first lead.

Surhoff said he lost Matsui's fly ball in the sun and hoped Tejada would locate it.

"I would have caught it, but I had no idea where the ball was," Surhoff said. "The sun was as bad as it could be. I never saw the ball hit the ground. It was perfect placement on his part."

Watching from the dugout, Mazzilli assumed Kline had gotten the last out.

"When the ball went up, I thought it was catchable," he said. "I thought the inning was over. It just fell in a good spot."

Not so good for Kline, who also surrendered a tie-breaking, three-run homer to Oakland's Eric Byrnes in the eighth inning of Thursday's 5-1 loss.

"[Sierra] hit an absolute missile. It was a [lousy] pitch and he hit it 600 feet," Kline said.

"I've been horrendous. I don't know if I'm trying too hard on a new team. You feel like you're on an island out there.

"I'll be back out there tomorrow to face [Sierra] if I have to. Maybe I'll take my glove off and throw right-handed."

Mazzilli insists that he hasn't lost faith in Kline, who's posted a career 3.30 ERA in the majors, including 1.79 last year with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"You've got to stay with him," Mazzilli said. "He's your guy."

If Mazzilli could change anything, he'd prefer that Kline hadn't grooved a fastball with first base open ("He's got to be more careful," Mazzilli said). He didn't consider bringing in Jorge Julio and making Sierra bat from the left side, where his career average was 33 points lower.

"There's no reason to," Mazzilli said. "If you do, you turn him around to the short porch. And Sierra is a much better fastball hitter."

Having the lead at Yankee Stadium rarely poses a problem for the Orioles. They're just a little perplexed at how to keep it.

The Orioles have led in the past 15 games here, with only five victories to show for it. They sent nine batters to the plate in the fourth inning yesterday, getting a two-run single from Tejada, a bases-loaded walk by Chris Gomez and RBI single by Geronimo Gil to go ahead 5-1.

Unable to locate anyone with a favorable history against Johnson, Mazzilli sifted through the statistics and went with his best options. Gomez made his first start, replacing first baseman Jay Gibbons. Javy Lopez served as the designated hitter over Rafael Palmeiro. Surhoff started in left field over Larry Bigbie.

"I have a little more luxury this year to get the other guys in," he said.

Gomez reached on an infield hit in the sixth and stole second. He took third on a passed ball, and with one out, Mazzilli called for a suicide squeeze. The decision backfired when Roberts missed the bunt, the ball tailing out of the strike zone and leaving Gomez in a rundown.

"Everything was right. He just didn't get it down," Mazzilli said. "If it works, it looks great. If it doesn't, it looks bad."

Said Roberts: "It's hard enough to squeeze if it's a strike. It's even harder when it's not.

"At that point, you've got to do anything you can to try to protect the runner."

A few innings later, Kline could have used a little protection. Anything to quiet the noise.

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