New York -- It was just a few hours after Orioles vice president Jim Duquette gave a state-of-the-team address of sorts that focused heavily on the organization's future, when rookie Adam Loewen took the mound last night at a sold-out Yankee Stadium.
Before throwing his first pitch, the prized young pitcher was given a one-run lead, courtesy of a home run by fellow rookie and new No. 2 hitter Nick Markakis, one of the "signs of hope" that the organization will look for over the last month and a half of another lost baseball season.
Over 5 2/3 innings last night, Loewen, again causing significant problems for the vaunted New York Yankees' lineup, gave the Orioles a glimpse of some happier times. Then another key cog in the organization's future, Chris Ray, exorcised some recent demons against the Yankees, getting the last six outs in the Orioles' 3-2 victory before 54,244.
Ray's 28th save, assured when Johnny Damon grounded out with a man on in the ninth, broke the Orioles' season-long five-game losing streak.
Eleven days after allowing only one hit through 6 1/3 innings against New York, Loewen gave up two earned runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out five. He left with men on second and third and two outs in the sixth, though Todd Williams' strikeout of pinch hitter Jorge Posada made sure that the rook ie would - at the very worst - get a no-decision.
However, the Orioles' bullpen, the worst statistically in the major leagues, still had to get nine more outs a night after blowing a two-run seventh-inning lead.
Tim Byrdak got the first two before Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo called on LaTroy Hawkins, who gave up a game-tying two-run homer to Johnny Damon on Tuesday night,
With Derek Jeter batting, Damon stole second and advanced to third when nobody was covering on Ramon Hernandez's throw. However, Hawkins got Jeter to bounce out to second base man Brian Roberts to end the inning.
The Orioles squandered another opportunity to build on their lead when Kevin Millar grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth.
Ray, who has lost three of his four games against the Yankees - all in non-save situations - was called on in the eighth to pitch for the first time in seven days.
He started the inning by giving up consecutive singles to Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez, before getting Robinson Cano to fly out to shallow left. Bernie Williams followed with a hard liner right at Roberts, who flipped to Miguel Tejada at second to double off Abreu and end the inning.
In the wake of the Orioles' 6-3 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night, Perlozzo went to bed thinking about what he could do differently. The first thing he came up with was moving hot- hitting Markakis, who has been batting eighth or ninth most of the season, up to second in the order.
Perlozzo acknowledged that he was contemplating the move a day earlier, but decided yesterday was the right time.
"I just slept on it and just said, "What the heck? Let's give it a shot,"' Perlozzo said. "Maybe we can jump-start the offense a little bit, give it all a different look. I just feel like he can handle it, so I just decided the heck with it. Let's not wait. Let's go ahead and try it."
The move paid immediate dividends in the first inning last night when Markakis laced Cory Lidle's 3-1 pitch into the right- field seats. The bases-empty shot was the rookie's sixth home run of the season.
"It's definitely something to look forward to, that they have enough confidence in me that I'll handle whatever position they put me in." said Markakis when asked before the game about hitting second. "It's exciting. I just need to go out there and do what I've been doing all year. We'll just see where it goes."
As a result of Markakis' promotion in the order, Hernandez, who has been struggling, was moved to the No. 9 spot and he drove in the Orioles' second run on a triple down the left-field line in the second.
The Orioles sent seven men to the plate in the third, but managed only one run. It started when Lidle, who came to New York as part of the Abreu deal before the non-waiver trade deadline, issued a two-out walk to Tejada.
Jay Gibbons then singled before a walk to Jeff Conine loaded the bases. After getting ahead of Millar with a first-pitch strike, Lidle threw four straight balls to walk in a run and give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
Loewen looked strong holding that lead early. He retired the first eight Yankees before Melky Cabrera reached on an infield single in the third inning. Including his Aug. 5 start, Loewen had held 29 Yankees hitless before allowing Cabrera's single.
The Yankees finally got to the left-hander in the fifth, a rally started when Williams slammed a leadoff double. It was the 443rd double of his career, surpassing Don Mattingly's total and moving into second place on the Yankees' all-time doubles list, and the New York center fielder was rewarded with a thundering standing ovation.
Loewen hardly seemed affected, retiring Craig Wilson on a come-backer and then striking out Sal Fasano. But then Cabrera laced a double down the right-field line, scoring Williams and putting the Yankees on the board. Loewen followed that hit ter by getting behind 3-0 to Damon, before striking out the New York designated hitter on a slow curveball.