Shot Down

Matsui's Home Run In Ninth Drops O's

Base-running Decisions, Missed Opportunities Are Costly

July 21, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

NEW YORK - -He didn't even turn around to give it a courtesy glance. Orioles reliever Jim Johnson figured there was no point in doing that.

So as soon as the ball left Hideki Matsui's bat, flying toward the right-field seats, Johnson put his head down and started his slow walk off the field, oblivious to the New York Yankees that had started to gather at home plate.

"I knew as soon as he swung the bat, it was out of there," Johnson said. "There's no sense in turning around. Game over."

Matsui's solo homer with one out in the ninth inning provided a bitter end for the Orioles, who were beaten, 2-1, in front of an announced 46,342 on Monday. It was their fifth straight loss to the Yankees, four of them coming at new Yankee Stadium, where they have yet to win. The Orioles are just 2-23 in their past 25 road games against American League East opponents, including 1-12 this season.

What preceded the second game-ending homer of Matsui's career made it an even more painful loss to swallow as the Orioles (41-51) wasted a gritty outing from rookie starter David Hernandez by going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and twice having the potential go-ahead run cut down at home plate in the top of the eighth inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, who have won four straight to forge a first-place tie with the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, won a game in which they managed just four hits.

"We had guys on third two or three different times, and it didn't happen," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "You're coming in here, you're facing a team like the Yankees, they find a way to get it done and they did."

Held by nemesis Andy Pettitte to just a first-inning solo homer from Nick Markakis, the Orioles had a great scoring opportunity in the eighth inning wasted on the base paths. With Cesar Izturis on first base and one out, Brian Roberts hit a shot off the right-field wall. Izturis, who was running on the pitch, never picked up the ball as he slid into second and eventually headed back to first base.

He finally turned around and started running, but he had to settle for getting to third base with one out. Nolan Reimold suffered the same fate in the fifth, making it only to third despite running on Matt Wieters' single off the wall to right field.

Trembley defended Izturis and Reimold, saying neither had "opportunities" to score on the play because both balls hit off the wall and bounced right to the Yankees' right fielder.

After the Izturis play, Phil Coke relieved Pettitte and got Markakis to hit a sharp grounder right at Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph), who cut down the Orioles' shortstop at the plate. The inning then ended when Roberts was tagged out in a close play at the plate trying to score on Coke's pitch in the dirt that bounced about 15 feet away from catcher Jose Molina.

Roberts hesitated initially instead of breaking toward home. He and Trembley protested the call by plate umpire Adrian Johnson, but replays didn't show conclusively that Roberts had even touched the plate.

"Just before the pitch, [third base coach Juan Samuel] said, 'Watch the pitch in the dirt,' " Roberts said.

"I tracked the ball on the way in and then I saw it go in the dirt, but from my angle I lost it for a second and froze because I wasn't sure exactly where it was. That split-second probably cost me a little bit. ... I thought it was really close. The replay, I don't know. I watched it a couple times, but it was hard to tell."

An inning later, Matsui left little doubt by slamming Johnson's 2-2 pitch that was meant to be inside but caught too much of the plate. It was the fourth homer Johnson has given up this season after he surrendered none in 54 outings last year.

It also marred an uplifting performance by Hernandez, who made his return to the rotation by pitching six innings and allowing just one run - on Eric Hinske's solo homer - and three hits. In the first two innings, Hernandez, admittedly battling some nerves, threw 58 pitches and allowed five base runners.

However, after a two-out walk to Derek Jeter in the second, Hernandez retired 13 of the final 14 hitters he faced. He needed 58 pitches to get through two innings and just 46 to navigate through the next four.

"For me, it just shows I belong and that I can pitch at the highest level," Hernandez said.

"Facing the Yankees, I had some jitters, but you've just got to trust yourself and make each pitch count."

Box score

for Monday's game PG 4

ORIOLES @YANKEES

Tonight, 7:05

TV: MASN HD

Radio: 105.7 FM

INSIDE

Sherrill says he wants to stay an Oriole PG 3

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