Orioles Let One Slip Away
Yankees Overcome 5-0 First-Inning Deficit to Prevail Again: Yankees 6, Orioles 5
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2004; Page D01
NEW YORK, June 2 -- What remained of a formerly five-run lead was scattered around the bases at Yankee Stadium in the sixth inning Wednesday night when Baltimore Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli made the slow walk to the mound to remove his starting pitcher. From Mazzilli's head-down gait, to the bloodthirsty roar of a crowd of 50,502, to the overwhelming sense that nothing good awaited the oncoming reliever, it looked and felt like a funeral.
Within minutes, the New York Yankees had seized the lead, and within another hour they had wrapped up a 6-5 victory that left the Orioles wondering what they have to do to win a game against this team. In a pair of losses here, for instance, a four-run rally in the ninth and a five-run lead in the first have proven to be insufficient.
The Orioles are now left to lay their hopes of avoiding a three-game sweep on the shoulders of rookie Daniel Cabrera, who faces Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez in Thursday afternoon's finale. The Orioles are 0-5 against the Yankees this season and 17-44 since 2001.
"It's unacceptable," grunted Mazzilli after the game, echoing the tongue-lashing he gave his players behind closed doors seconds earlier. His concerns, he said, "have been addressed. [The speech] wasn't 'How you feelin?' "
By "unacceptable," Mazzilli could have been referring to any number of things: the tedious performance of starting pitcher Eric DuBose, who frittered away a five-run lead by walking batters and pitching constantly from behind in the count. The offense that failed to score after the first-inning explosion. The base runner, Jerry Hairston, who was picked off second base with the heart of the order coming to the plate in the third.
"He was pretty upset," Hairston said of Mazzilli, "and rightfully so. We're all upset."
After Yankees starter Jose Contreras failed to make it out of the first inning, giving up five runs and departing to a cascade of boos, right-hander Tanyon Sturtze, an afterthought, garbage-time long reliever, came in and shut out the Orioles for the next 4 2/3 innings, the start of a brilliant night for the Yankees' bullpen.
Right-handers Bret Prinz and Tom Gordon carried the one-run lead to the ninth, and closer Mariano Rivera finished it off for his 20th save of the season. The Orioles put the potential go-ahead runs on base against Rivera, but pinch hitter Jose Leon -- whom Mazzilli sent to the plate in place of Larry Bigbie in order to neutralize Rivera's infernal "cut" fastball -- took a high fastball for a called strike three.
DuBose had thrown only 87 pitches when he was lifted unceremoniously two batters into the sixth inning, having relinquished his right to stay in the game because of a lengthy list of transgressions that included four walks, a hit batter, homers allowed to Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter and a never-ending stream of 2-0 counts -- indefensible acts when pitching with a lead. DuBose handed the ball over to Mazzilli without a word.
"Walks kill," DuBose said. "I fell behind everybody. When your team gives you a five-run lead, you have to go out there and pound the strike zone."
The Orioles were still ahead by a run at the time, but lefty Buddy Groom allowed both of the runs he inherited from DuBose to score, giving the Yankees the lead. The go-ahead run came in on Ruben Sierra's sacrifice fly to right. New York is 13-3 this season in games started by lefties.
DuBose's four walks -- and another two by the bullpen -- pushed the season total of the Orioles' pitching staff to 238, or roughly 30 more than any other pitching staff in the league has allowed.
The top of the first inning took 30 minutes and featured 50 pitches -- 44 of them by Contreras, who recorded only two outs -- plus critical errors by Yankees infielders Jeter and Enrique Wilson. At one point, the Orioles had scored five runs and collected only one hit. They key play of the inning was Wilson's throwing error on an apparent inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, which kept the inning alive for three more runs.
But DuBose immediately started handing away runs. A pair of walks preceded Sheffield's three-run homer in the first, a laser-beam line drive to left. Jeter's homer, a towering drive to left-center in the fourth, made it 5-4. The Yankees won despite making as many errors (three) as they had hits.
Finally, two batters into the sixth, Mazzilli could take no more of DuBose's act. Asked later if DuBose will be making another start for the Orioles, Mazzilli demurred. "I don't even know," he said, "what I'm doing tomorrow."
Orioles Notes: Melvin Mora, the former utility man whom the Orioles made their everyday third baseman this spring, was named AL player of the month for May, after batting .402 with eight homers and 23 RBI in 26 games during the month. An 0-for-4 Wednesday night dropped his season average to .377, still tops in the league.
"It seems like every day the kid's getting two hits," Mazzilli said of Mora. "And he's played really well at third base since early in the season. I think a lot of [his success] is because, when [he comes] to the ballpark, [he's] batting second and playing every day at third base instead of moving around the lineup." . . .
Jeter has now driven in at least one run in nine straight games, the longest such streak by a Yankee since Don Mattingly in 1987.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company