You would think, after not having a lead against the New York Yankees for five straight games and a span of 52 innings, that the Orioles would have clung to their two-run advantage Wednesday night a little more desperately.
You would think the mere chance of a victory after 10 losses in their past 11 games, several in lopsided fashion, and nine straight defeats at the hands of these Yankees would have been enough motivation for the Orioles to tighten up defensively and help out a young pitcher battling gamely to keep his team in front.
Of course, these are the 2010 Orioles, so you have to think twice.
A throwing error by pitcher Chris Tillman led to a run in the fourth inning, and then a slew of defensive miscues in the sixth allowed the Yankees to score two more runs on their way to a 4-2 victory in front of an announced 16,451 at rainy Camden Yards.
"You can't make a mistake against the Yankees," said Orioles second baseman Julio Lugo, whose inability to field Mark Teixeira's ground ball led to New York's two-run sixth. "That's one of the reasons why they're the best team in the major leagues. They have all kind of players and all kind of tools. They took advantage of what we did."
Their margin for error against the reigning world champions slim to begin with, the Orioles (16-43) all but handed the Yankees a 10th straight victory in the season series and will have to win Thursday night in Jake Arrieta's big league debut to avoid another sweep.
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead by the end of the third inning on the strength of two-out RBI singles from Garrett Atkins and Adam Jones off Yankees ace CC Sabathia. But what got them that lead — timely hits, a patient approach, solid pitching from Tillman and steady defense — evaporated, culminating in an ugly top of the sixth.
"Tillman did his job," Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton said. "You have an inning like that, it happens. But at the same time, we have to find a way to get the job done."
It started when Lugo rushed forward to field Teixeira's ground ball and then watched it hop over his glove. It was initially ruled an error but changed to a hit by the official scorer after the game. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single that bounced just in front of left fielder Luke Scott and kicked off his glove to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Robinson Cano then bounced a single over the head of a drawn-in Wigginton to tie the score at 2 and keep runners at the corners with no outs. Cano had three hits Wednesday night and is 22-for-44 (.500) with four homers and eight RBIs against the Orioles this season.
Jorge Posada followed by hitting another bouncer to Wigginton, who looked Rodriguez back to third and then tried to start a double play. Rodriguez took off when Wigginton's throw went to second, but instead of getting the out and then throwing home, shortstop Cesar Izturis opted to throw back to first. His throw sailed high and wide, and the Yankees scored the go-ahead run while the Orioles got just the one out.
"The ideal thing was probably to see Izturis come home with it," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "He probably would have had a shot there, but I think Wigginton did the right thing."
None of the Orioles used it as an excuse, but Wigginton pointed out that the heavy rain during the early innings made fielding treacherous.
"The field was absolutely atrocious, to be honest with you," Wigginton said. "It was brutal, but that has no bearing. Both teams have to play on it. But it was bad."
The Orioles had a chance to tie the score off Sabathia in the seventh, but Cano made a diving stop on Nick Markakis' ground ball between first and second base to hold him to an infield single and prevent Izturis from scoring from second base. After a walk to Wigginton loaded the bases, Sabathia got Scott to flail at a 1-2 slider to end the inning and his outing. Both Sabathia and catcher Francisco Cervelli gave emphatic fist pumps after Scott struck out.
Sabathia (6-3) beat the Orioles for the eighth straight time, improving to 4-0 with a 2.73 ERA against them this season and 13-1 against them in his career.
Tillman, meanwhile, had a nice bounce back outing following his 11/3-inning start against the Boston Red Sox, allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits and three walks. With his fastball command failing him again, Tillman relied almost exclusively on his curveball to hold down the Yankees and get out of jams.
But what could have been an uplifting victory for the 22-year-old turned into another disappointing loss when the Orioles' infield defense checked out on the young pitcher.
"It was a shame," Samuel said. "He was pitching so well."