O's Can't Keep Up With Yankees
Team Slips to 20-21 After Rout: Yankees 11, Orioles 3
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page D01
BALTIMORE, May 25 -- Lee Mazzilli often refers half-jokingly to Joe Torre as "The Godfather," a nod to their shared Italian heritage, Torre's regal presence and Mazzilli's reverence toward his baseball mentor. But Tuesday night found Mazzilli's Baltimore Orioles facing Torre's New York Yankees for the first time -- a night for big hugs, cinematic bravura and impassioned battle.
As a character might declare on "The Sopranos" -- Mazzilli's favorite show -- "We're going to war with New York."
Mazzilli, however, found out the hard way that this may not be a fight his Orioles are ready for, as evidenced by the 11-3 pounding inflicted upon them by the Yankees on Tuesday night in front of a bipartisan crowd of 42,846 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"That," Mazzilli said later, "wasn't what I planned."
"One of us had to be happy," Torre said, "and I'm glad it's me, because I'm older."
The Yankees' $180 million machine steamrolled a pair of rookie pitchers -- lefty Erik Bedard (1-2) and right-hander Denny Bautista, who was making his major league debut -- and by the time struggling right-hander Mike DeJean came in and did his gasoline-on-fire thing, the Orioles (20-21) were headed to the bad side of .500 for the first time since April 11.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez hit a towering three-run homer off DeJean to cap a six-run sixth inning, and second baseman Enrique Wilson drove in four runs for the Yankees, who remain 1 1/2 games behind first-place Boston.
And as if an embarrassing defeat and a five-game losing streak were not enough for the Orioles, right fielder Jay Gibbons needed to be helped off the field in the bottom of the ninth after suffering back spasms. Trainer Richie Bancells said Gibbons is day-to-day, but there is a chance the team could place him on the disabled list.
By its nature, the Orioles' first meeting against the Yankees -- who have won the past six American League East titles -- traditionally is held up as a yardstick against which the Orioles can measure themselves. In recent years that has been an exercise in humility.
Although they trucked in power hitters Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez this winter, they still went into the game with a 25-man roster whose combined salaries equal only about $33 million, or nearly six times smaller than the Yankees' payroll.
Caught in a team-wide hitting slump -- they have scored only 11 runs in their five straight losses -- the Orioles were shut down for seven innings by Yankees right-hander Jon Lieber (4-1), who endured a 79-minute rain delay and allowed only four hits and a pair of unearned runs.
Mazzilli professed nonchalance about his first meeting against Torre, whom he played for in the 1970s and coached under the past four seasons in New York. Asked at what point had he circled this date on his calendar, Mazzilli said, "Today."
Mazzilli spent much of the pregame period visiting with old friends, including Torre. "The one thing you noticed right away, even though he was inexperienced and young," Torre said when reminiscing about a young Mazzilli, "is that he wasn't afraid of the heat. He never really was afraid to fail."
Perhaps that fearlessness is what caused Mazzilli to ease Bautista into his first big-league action by sending him out for the fifth inning of a two-run game to face Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield.
"I was real surprised when I started warming up," said Bautista, who was called up from Class AA Bowie earlier in the day, through a translator. "But there's nothing better than pitching against the Yankees in your big-league debut."
Bautista got through that inning, but not the sixth. He gave up three hits, a walk and four runs in the inning -- including an RBI double by Derek Jeter, who entered the game hitting .189 -- and tossed in a run-scoring wild pitch for good measure.
"When he got in some trouble, he couldn't find the strike zone," Mazzilli said. "And the Yankees, they're a patient ballclub. They're not going to chase a lot of that stuff."
DeJean entered next to scattered boos, and proceeded to give up a single to Williams and Rodriguez's homer to straightaway center field. By the time the inning finally ended, the Yankees had batted around in the inning and scored six runs.
"We're going to have sit down, and we have to work something out," Mazzilli said of DeJean, whose ERA soared to 9.19, "because he's just not throwing the way he's capable of. His sinker is not working right now. It's just kind of flat. We're going to get back to basics. He's going to get some side work and try to change something."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company