With their ace facing a pitcher who hadn't been on a major league mound in more than 500 days, the Orioles were in prime position last night to win one against an unusually mortal New York Yankees team.
Instead, the Orioles found plenty of ways to hand the Yankees a 5-3 win in a game that featured close plays, a failure to hit in the clutch and manager Dave Trembley's fourth ejection of the season.
Much-maligned Yankees right-hander Carl Pavano, who was 10 days removed from getting bashed by the Orioles' Double-A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox, was in trouble in all but one of the five innings he pitched
But the Orioles, who had runners on first and second with no outs in three of their first four innings, were just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Pavano (1-0).
"He made some good pitches when he had to. He got out of some jams," Orioles outfielder Jay Payton said. "He had pretty good command for a guy that hasn't pitched that much lately."
Trembley spent the majority of the night inside the clubhouse after he was ejected in the Orioles' three-run second that ended when third baseman Melvin Mora made the final out swinging at a pitch that landed in the dirt.
Mora hesitated for a couple of seconds as the Yankees filed off the field.
"I wasn't trying to fool nobody. I just looked down at the ball in the dirt and thought, I better run to first base," Mora said. "I was waiting for the batboy to come and get my helmet. Then I saw the umpire do nothing. I decided I better go to first."
He made it safely. But Yankees manager Joe Girardi argued that Mora's hesitation disqualified him from running on a dropped third strike - a rule that was modified after a similar situation happened in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series.
The umpires conferred and changed their decision, ruling that Mora was out.
"The hitter walked toward the dugout to throw his bat and helmet away. He, in doing so, has abandoned his effort to reach the next base," plate umpire Joe West said. "He's called out, according to the rule."
Trembley came out to argue and was tossed, but he got his money's worth. Gyrating repeatedly while arguing, he at one point walked over and stood in the batter's box to demonstrate Mora's positioning. As he walked off the field, he thrust his fist downward four consecutive times while the sellout crowd of 48,817 cheered.
"I am not going to talk about that because I'll probably say something that I shouldn't," Trembley said. "So I'm not going to talk about it."
West said Trembley was tossed for arguing an explanation after the umpiring crew conferred. "He was warned twice before being ejected," West said.
In the next inning, Jason Giambi hit a two-run homer against Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie (10-10) to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead they never lost.
The Yankees scored two runs in the first, highlighted by a close play at the plate.
Johnny Damon led off the game with a single and then tried to score from first on a near homer by Alex Rodriguez that hit the top of the left-center-field wall.
Shortstop Juan Castro bounced a throw to home, but it arrived in plenty of time for Ramon Hernandez to apply the tag.
Hernandez, though, took a step backward and failed to block the plate as Damon slid under the tag.
"Ramon's tag was high," Trembley said. "It was a good call."
Rodriguez scored on Giambi's broken-bat single for a 2-0 lead against Guthrie, whose string of five quality starts was ended.