NEW YORK — — Even before rookie pitcher Brian Matusz's ill-fated throw to first base in the fifth inning, the Orioles appeared doomed after three of their best players had opportunities to break open the game against the New York Yankees and they all swung and missed.
Orioles pitchers simply have no margin for error, as Matusz found out again Tuesday night when his poor throw to first cost the team another game that it had every opportunity to win. The Yankees got the go-ahead run in a 4-1 victory before an announced 43,260 when Matusz tossed Ramiro Pena's sacrifice-bunt attempt into right field, but that was just one in a series of inept moments — most of them on the offensive end — that showed the Orioles for the last-place team that they are.
"In the game, no matter how good you play, there's no room for error," Orioles third baseman Miguel Tejada said. "Especially when you play a team as good as Boston and the Yankees, you have to play a perfect game to get it."
The Orioles, now a dreadful 7-20, look simply incapable of playing a flawless game these days. In addition to Matusz's error, center fielder Adam Jones made a poor decision to dive for a liner by Francisco Cervelli in the third, turning a single into a triple and leading to the Yankees' scoring the game-tying run.
They also continued to come up painfully small in the clutch, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Their latest poor offensive performance could be summed up by the top of the third inning, after they received a gift on A.J. Burnett's throwing error on Cesar Izturis' sacrifice-bunt attempt.
The misfire brought home the game's first run and put runners on second and third with no outs and the top of the Orioles' order due up. Orioles manager Dave Trembley called it "the best opportunity that we've had in a long time early in the game."
Burnett fanned Jones on six pitches, Nick Markakis went down in five, and Matt Wieters took it to six pitches before flailing at a curveball. So much for that.
"If you're the Yankees, you're going to say that Burnett made quality pitches. If you're on our side, you're going to say you have probably the three best hitters up in that situation [and] all three of the [strikeouts] were on pitches out of the strike zone," a clearly agitated Trembley said. "We had [Burnett] right where we wanted him and didn't get it done."
The Orioles also had a runner on second with fewer than two outs in two other innings and couldn't convert off Burnett, who improved to 11-2 against them in 15 career starts. He allowed just the one unearned run and now hasn't surrendered an earned run in 19 consecutive innings. With the 7 1/3-inning effort, he became the 16th opposing starter in 27 games to pitch at least seven innings against the Orioles.
Overall, the Orioles have been held to three runs or fewer in 18 of their 27 games, and one run or none eight times this season. They've been particularly dreadful against the Yankees, scoring only two runs in the series and 10 runs in five games against them this season. Five of those runs came in their only victory against New York last Tuesday.
"I don't think we're trying too hard," said Wieters, who had one of the worst games of his young career, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and hitting into a double play. "This game is a grind; there's a lot of work that goes into it to be able to succeed. We will come through here eventually, but you can't force it. It's going to happen when it happens."
But as Orioles hitters keep talking confidently about better times ahead, their starting pitchers suffer and are left with nothing to show for solid outings.
Matusz, who has been beaten twice by the Yankees in a five-day span after winning six straight decisions, pitched gamely again, allowing three runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks over six innings.
But he was left to lament the rocky fifth inning that started with a leadoff walk to Brett Gardner and a bloop single by Cervelli, who had three hits in place of the injured Jorge Posada. With runners on first and second and one out, Pena predictably dropped down a bunt, which Matusz fielded, but like Burnett two innings earlier, he threw wide right to first base.
"I ended up hooking it," Matusz said. "It ended up being a cutter over there to Wiggy [Ty Wigginton], just out of his reach. It was just a bad throw, a mistake."
Gardner scored the go-ahead run on the error, and the Yankees still had men on second and third with no outs and the top of their order coming up. Matusz nearly escaped further damage, retiring Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher. But after walking Mark Teixeira to load the bases, he missed on a
3-2 offering — the ninth pitch of the at-bat — to Alex Rodriguez and forced in another run.
"There's no margin for error in this division," Wieters said. "These guys, you make one mistake and they are going to pounce on it. But that's what's going to make you better, playing against this kind of competition."