At the conclusion of the 1985 season, it's highly likely the New York Yankees will be looking back and asking why they finished the year in second place in the American League East.
Many of the answers were evident tonight, as the Baltimore Orioles handed New York its eighth straight loss, 4-2, before 33,957 at Memorial Stadium.
With the loss, the Yankees fell 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who defeated Milwaukee, 7-5.
Cal Ripken, who drove in Baltimore's first run of the evening, broke up a pitching duel and provided the game-winner with a two-out RBI single in the seventh inning, making a winner of Mike Flanagan (4-4). Don Aase pitched the final two innings for his 13th save.
"September baseball. It's great if you're in it (the pennant race)," said Orioles Manager Earl Weaver before the start of the game, although one had to wonder if Billy Martin, his counterpart on the Yankees, felt the same way.
With his team faltering, Martin has found himself under fire for some questionable moves during the slide. But, perhaps because of Martin's temper, it was Weaver who was being asked about Martin's decisions before the game.
Unfortunately for those doing the asking, Weaver wasn't talking. "I've got enough problems on my team. I can't be worrying about someone else's," he said.
That wasn't to say that Weaver wasn't happy to see New York come to town. "Things will be more exciting because they're contenders," he said. "The crowd will be into it more and the players will, too."
The Yankees scored in the top of the first inning, when Rickey Henderson led off with a double and eventually scored on a ground out by Dave Winfield.
However, in the bottom of the inning, the visitors offered evidence of why they've fallen back in the past two weeks. After a leisurely jog, shortstop Bobby Meacham dropped Alan Wiggins' popup. The leadoff man stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a single by Ripken, another high pop that managed to fall between a trio of Yankees.
The next hitter, Eddie Murray, doubled to right but Ripken was cut down at the plate on a fine relay from second baseman Rex Hudler. However, Murray scored on a single to right by Mike Young, giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
Henderson and Mattingly combined for the Yankees' second run of the game in the third inning. With his second double of the game, Henderson raised his average against Baltimore pitching this season to .680. A short time later, he moved to third on his 71st stolen base, his 12th steal in 13 attempts against the Orioles.
Mattingly, the league leader in runs batted in, followed with a groundout to second, Henderson scoring. Winfield followed with a walk and moved to third on a single by Don Baylor before Andre Robertson grounded out.
The 2-2 tie held until the seventh, when the Orioles finally knocked out Yankees starter Rich Bordi. With two outs, Wiggins singled to left and went to second on a walk by Lee Lacy. That brought up Ripken, who singled to left for a 3-2 lead. That also marked the end of Bordi's evening, as Martin replaced him with Dave Righetti.
However, Murray, the first batter to face the New York relief ace, sent a line single to the left field corner, scoring Lacy to give Baltimore a 4-2 lead that Aase preserved with his two innings of scoreless relief.