Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth misses a home run hit by New… (GARY CAMERON, REUTERS )
One night after rejuvenating a skeptical but eager fan base with an exhilarating victory against the bullies of the American League East, the Orioles took on the New York Yankees again at a rocking Camden Yards on Friday night.
This time, there were no lasting moments of comeuppance, just a pedestrian 8-5 loss to the Yankees complete with an early deficit that was too deep to overcome for an Orioles club that specializes in rallies.
What separates Friday’s defeat from those in past years, of course, are the stakes: The win snapped a first place tie in the division, pushing the Yankees (78-60) one game ahead of the Orioles (77-61) with 24 remaining – but only two left between the clubs.
The Orioles also believe there’s another huge difference between Friday’s loss and so many others to the Yankees. This one won’t snowball, they said in the clubhouse after the game.
“The Yankees, they are a good team. You ain’t gonna win them all, but we’re gonna go out there and battle every day,” said Robert Andino, who, along with Adam Jones and Manny Machado, homered after the club was down 7-0. “And tomorrow is another day.”
During the past 14 dreadful seasons, if the Orioles were losing big early, their fans would pack up and leave the Yankees’ faithful celebrating at Camden Yards.
On Friday, the announced crowd of 40,861 – still more orange and black than blue and white was visible in the stands, but Yankees’ fans closed the gap after Thursday’s orange-out -- stuck around and watched the Orioles chip away at the lead.
“We’ve come back before down seven, so why couldn’t we do it again?” Andino said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there was no sense of doom after starter Wei-Yin Chen gave up seven runs on three homers by the fifth.
“In our dugout, that wasn't the feeling. Jonesy hit the three-run home run. You just have to tip your hat to their bullpen. They came in and did a good job,” Showalter said. “But it wasn't because the 'want-to' wasn't there. There was a lot of energy there again, the fans were great. Just a disappointment we couldn't return the favor.”
Chen was aiming to become the first Oriole to win 13 games since Erik Bedard in 2007 and the first Orioles rookie to win more than 12 games in a season since Rodrigo Lopez in 2002. Perhaps more significant for Chen, with a victory he would have moved into a second-place tie with Hong-Chih Kuo for most major league wins by a Taiwanese pitcher — trailing only Chien-Ming Wang (who has 61 career MLB wins).
An ugly fourth inning put an end to those hopes.
"Actually I feel real good today,” said Chen, through interpreter Tim Lin. “I wasn't able to attack the strike zone like in the late innings, and that was the problem. This is the Yankees, and I made a couple of mistakes and they made me pay the price.”
Chen (12-9) had cruised through the first three frames, allowing just one single before he hit Nick Swisher with a pitch. After a walk and a strikeout, Russell Martin smashed a Chen changeup for his 16th homer and a 3-0 Yankees lead.
Three batters later, Pearce, whom the Orioles lost on waivers to the Houston Astros in July and who ended up with the Yankees for cash considerations in August, got some revenge on his old team. He hit a ball to left that McLouth attempted to catch while leaping at the wall, but he didn't time it properly. A Yankees fan in the first row of the left-field stands competed with McLouth, but didn't appear to interfere — despite McLouth's protests.
“I had it,” McLouth said. “And it was unfortunate because it's a run. And it was a fairly, I don't want to say easy catch but I was standing there kind of waiting for it. And I haven't seen the replay but something hit my glove. And I'm sure it was someone's hand of arm or something like that. As I was kind of converging, my glove was kind of converging on the ball. Someone had hit the glove.”
Surely some Orioles fans suffered a painful momentary flashback to Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series and the much-maligned Jeffrey Maier-Tony Tarasco encounter. This one wasn’t nearly as clear cut -- or important.
McLouth did get some revenge on the Yankees — and the same fan in the ninth when he jumped again at the wall and took a homer away from Swisher. McLouth appeared to snag the ball out of the Yankees' fan's outstretched hands.
“Nate was just a little frustrated that somebody hit his glove on the way up,” Showalter said about the first homer. “He sure went and made a great catch in that last inning.”