NEW YORK, JUNE 1 -- The Baltimore Orioles began a 26-game run against AL East competition here tonight with Manager Frank Robinson out and New York Yankees Manager Bucky Dent rumored to be headed that way.
But New York helped turn its fortunes with a pregame team meeting, though Baltimore's fortunes with umpires remained the same. After a controversial call that probably cost them a ninth-inning run, the Orioles ended the game with the tying run on third and a 4-3 loss to the Yankees before 28,191 fans at Yankee Stadium.
Baltimore lost its first game under first-base coach Johnny Oates, who took over as manager with Robinson beginning a three-game suspension in connection with his ejection from Monday's game against the Minnesota Twins.
The Orioles (21-27) have lost three of their last four. Since May 15 they are 5-2 against the Texas Rangers and a combined 2-9 against the Twins, Chicago White Sox and Yankees.
New York entered with a five-game losing streak and a 17-27 record -- the team's worst mark after 44 games since 1925 and the major leagues' worst record this season (tied with the Atlanta Braves).
But after starting pitcher Jeff Ballard was hit in the chest by a line drive off the bat of Randy Velarde with one out in the fifth, the Yankees swarmed their way to two runs in that inning and two more in the sixth.
The Orioles, who took a 2-0 lead by scoring in the second and third, had no reply until the ninth and Dave Righetti had come in after a fine effort by starter Dave LaPoint and one-third of an inning by Jeff Robinson.
Bob Melvin led off the inning with a slow grounder up the middle. Second baseman Steve Sax fielded the ball, but had trouble getting it out of his glove. Melvin appeared to beat his throw by a step, and let umpire Durwood Merrill know it after Merrill called him out.
The play became significant when Brad Komminsk walked and scored on a two-out, two-strike triple into the right field corner by Phil Bradley, who was stranded when Joe Orsulak grounded out.
"I wouldn't have argued if I didn't think I was safe," said Melvin, who added you "can't" assume the rest of the inning would have been the same if he had reached.
"He was safe," said Ballard, who watched a television replay in the clubhouse. "I don't think we're going to get the calls. I'm a firm believer that you have to make your own breaks."
Pressed on the issue, Ballard said he didn't mean to suggest the umpires were against the Orioles.
Crew chief Don Denkinger also squelched that idea. "That has nothing to do with it," he said. "Our job is to be objective. That's all we want to do. We just want to do the best job we can because nobody wants to be embarrassed by missing a call."
Besides, the Orioles did not make their own breaks and the Yankees did.
"We had a little bit of a meeting and Bucky fired us up," LaPoint said. "But in the first couple of innings maybe we were trying to do a little too much. And the way Jeff Ballard was pitching, it didn't look like we were going to score."
Baltimore took a 1-0 lead in the first when Randy Milligan belted a home run to left-center, his fourth homer in as many games.
The Orioles added another run in the third, but did not take full advantage of their situation. Orsulak singled with one out and Cal Ripken grounded a double into the left field corner. Mickey Tettleton brought home Orsulak, but it was with a weak groundout to second on which Ripken could not go to third. Milligan then struck out, with the last two strikes coming on checked swings.
"We had our chances," Oates said. "Of the first 13 batters, seven or eight hit the ball hard, but we only got two runs. After that LaPoint settled down and started mixing up pitches much better."
Ballard went the opposite way. Through the first four innings, he allowed one hit and retired 12 of 13 batters. He walked Jesse Barfield to begin the fifth. After Rick Cerone flied out, Velarde came up.
Despite being hit what he called "pretty square," Ballard stayed in the game, but the incident evoked memories of last May 31 when a line drive by Rangers outfielder Pete Incaviglia hit Ballard's collarbone.
Ballard didn't miss a start, but in his next eight starts he had a 2-3 record and did not complete five innings in four starts.
And tonight -- although he, Oates and pitching coach Al Jackson said he was unaffected by Velarde's liner -- he came apart soon after being hit. Alvaro Espinoza flied out to center on Ballard's next pitch, but Deion Sanders singled to center. Barfield scored and Velarde went to third. Sax also singled, and the score was tied at 2.
With one out in the sixth, Steve Balboni lined a 2-2 pitch into the left field seats for his fifth homer in nine games. Barfield singled sharply to right to finish Ballard, and Cerone greeted Brian Holton with a single to left. Velarde doubled down the right field line to make it 4-2.
"I thought we got some key hits," Dent said, "but that's all we've needed to do all year. I hope it's a beginning for us."