He has mastered almost every challenge as a rookie closer, but put Chris Ray in the late innings of a tie game against the New York Yankees and bad things have happened. Ray couldn't even bear to watch his latest misstep Friday night.
The moment the ball left Jorge Posada's bat, Ray's head dropped, refusing to follow the towering flight of the ball that soared over the scoreboard in right field and bounded off the flag court.
Posada's bases-empty, ninth-inning home run on the first pitch he saw from the Orioles closer broke a tie and Mariano Rivera saved the Yankees' 5-4 victory before 44,840 at Camden Yards.
"That was supposed to be down and away and I just left it down the middle. He did what he was supposed to do with it," Ray said. "It's one of the better lineups in the league, but it doesn't really change too much. If I make those pitches to anybody, they are going to hit them out."
It was the third time this season Ray had been brought in with the game tied against the Yankees and the third time he has lost. (He did protect a one-run lead at Yankee Stadium on April 21.) The Yankees take credit for three of Ray's four losses.
"I don't think his ball was exploding," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said of Ray. "His location wasn't real good either. He was missing his target quite a bit. It happens. He's human. When you've got a team as good as the Yankees and your location is not good, your chances of paying for it is going to be a little bit greater."
It was a bitter beginning to the start of a rigorous season-ending stretch for the Orioles, now a season-high 12 games under .500 and 18 games removed from the American League East-leading Yankees, who stayed one game ahead of Boston thanks to Posada's heroics.
The Orioles (49-61) will play 46 of their final 52 games against teams with winning records with the only exception being two three-game series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Friday night's loss dropped the Orioles' record to 21-39 against winning teams as opposed to 28-22 against losing ones. They are now 2-5 this year against the Yankees, who built a 3-0 lead in the first two innings, watched Randy Johnson squander it three innings later before tying the game at 4 in the seventh on newcomer Craig Wilson's RBI double off reliever Chris Britton.
"They keep coming at you," Perlozzo said. "There's not a whole lot of room for mistakes against that ballclub."
Friday was the one-year anniversary of Perlozzo getting the Orioles' managing job, at least on an interim basis. Ironically, the man he replaced, Lee Mazzilli, was in the visiting dugout as Joe Torre's bench coach.
Perlozzo was in no mood to celebrate early. Orioles starter Bruce Chen gave up a bases-empty home run to Johnny Damon, his 14th of the season, on his second pitch of the night. The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the second inning on Miguel Cairo's double.
When Posada singled in the third inning, every Yankee had reached base. New York had at least two runners on in each of their first four innings, but Chen, who gave up nine hits and three runs, never let the game out of hand.
"I felt good. I felt like I had my pitches there," said Chen. "But it's such a tough lineup that I have to keep battling inning after inning."
When the Orioles scored twice in the bottom of the fifth of a less-than-overpowering Johnson, Chen was in position to get his first win. Fernando Tatis, in the lineup with a lefty on the mound, hit a bases-empty homer, his first since June 1, 2003, to tie the game at 3.
"It's always nice hitting a home run when you are coming to a new team and nobody knows you," said Tatis, who has been out of baseball for the past two years.
Asked if it felt like his first home run since 2003, Tatis said, "Yeah, I believe it."
Miguel Tejada's RBI single - he was thrown out by new Yankees right fielder Bobby Abreu trying to stretch it into a double - gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead.
Johnson surrendered nine hits and four earned runs over six innings and was on the hook for a loss until Wilson's double in the seventh. Johnson had no strikeouts, marking just the second time in his major league career that he had none in back-to-back starts. The first time it happened was in 1998.
"I don't want to be the wheel that's falling off the wagon here. That's where I am at right now," Johnson told reporters. "I want to feel like I am contributing."
"Usually he gets a lot of his strikeouts on a nasty slider where you just can't lay off of it," said Perlozzo, who was a coach on the Seattle staff when Johnson was pitching for the Mariners. "I don't think he had good command of it tonight, but Randy is a battler. He figures out a way to get something done."