NEW YORK — The wading was the hardest part.
The Orioles and New York Yankees whiled away more than four hours waiting for the rain to relent Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium before finally taking the soggy field and playing well into the morning to avoid a day/night doubleheader Wednesday.
Whether that effort was worthwhile depended on the outcome, which again favored the Yankees, who took advantage of the ugly conditions and a disputed home run to score a 5-3 victory before a tiny group of die-hard fans and about 40,000 very expensive, very paid-for empty seats. The paid attendance was announced as 44,573, but there appeared to be no more than 1,000 people in the ballpark for first pitch.
No doubt, there is going to be a lot of grumbling about the decision to start the game at 11:08 p.m., but the Yankees sought to blunt any fan fallout by announcing in the fifth inning that every ticket bought for the game — whether used or not — may be exchanged for a grandstand-level or terrace-level ticket for a game next season.
There's also going to be a lot more grumbling about the umpiring decision on Francisco Cervelli's tie-breaking home run in the seventh, since it brought back memories of the infamous Jeffrey Maier incident in the 1996 American League Championship Series.
Cervelli's towering fly came down right at the fence, and a fan reached over and deflected it back onto the field. Two umpires signaled home run, then upheld their call after Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked for a video review. Trouble was, the video replay seemed to show the fan interfering with the ball while it was still in the field of play.
"They will tell you, although they didn't tell me, they need indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field," Showalter said. "I haven't looked at it real good yet. ... I know what our players thought."
It didn't help the Orioles' cause that left fielder Matt Angle got lost on the play and did not settle under the ball, which might have provided a different perspective for the umpires. Coincidentally, Angle also got turned around on the waterlogged warning track in the fifth inning on a high fly by Cervelli and dropped it for a run-scoring error.
Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner quickly followed Cervelli's homer with one of his own to give the Yankees (87-53) a two-run lead and spoil a gutsy effort by Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, who allowed just one hit through the first five innings — a solo homer by Jorge Posada in the third. He also allowed an unearned run in the fifth when Mark Reynolds saw Posada's sharp grounder squirt out of his glove ahead of the misplay by Angle. Hunter (3-3) ended up allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits while striking out six in 6 2/3 innings.
Though he could have cursed the fates — and the weather — Hunter had no time for excuses afterward.
"That had nothing to do with it," Hunter said. "You've got to throw strikes. At the end of the game and the later innings, you've got to hit spots. You can't fall behind. It's frustrating. These guys are going out there and playing in the same conditions that we are. To use the rain as an excuse is just what it is — an excuse."
The Orioles (55-85) came back to tie the game in the sixth on Matt Wieters' 17th home run of the season, a two-run shot off Yankees starter Phil Hughes into the right field seats. The Yankees answered with a run in the bottom of the inning when Derek Jeter scored on a long single by Mark Teixeira. The Orioles tied the game again on a long double by Nick Markakis in top of the seventh.
"Yeah, they scored runs for me," Hunter said. "Just in the end, you've got to find a way to get to get it done, and I didn't."
All the while, a steady shower continued to soak the field and the hearty fans, who seemed to revel in the absurdity of the situation.
Of course, this was serious business for the Yankees, who took the field knowing that the Boston Red Sox had already trounced the Toronto Blue Jays, 14-0, to pull within two games of first place in the AL East. The Orioles are playing for little more than pride, but they obviously decided that if they had to spend the night in the Bronx, they might as well make it interesting.