Between the hot, humid air, the unfriendly environs of Yankee Stadium and the crushing weight of a 10-game losing streak, the Baltimore Orioles might have felt as if they had descended into the inferno today. But with a 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees before a crowd of 37,046, the weight of the losing streak was lessened and the Orioles retreated to the coolness of their clubhouse as victors for the first time since June 22.
"Excuse me for eating in front of you," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said as he addressed a roomful of reporters with a mouthful of chicken, "but I haven't tasted anything good in 10 days."
The Orioles (33-47) won behind a strong six-inning performance by noted hot-weather pitcher Juan Guzman (4-6); a six-run seventh inning keyed by B.J. Surhoff's grand slam off right-hander Ramiro Mendoza (3-5); and three innings of scoreless relief from Scott Kamieniecki, who picked up his second save of the season. The Orioles' bullpen finally held a lead and, for a change, someone else's bullpen didn't.
"We've had a lot of well-played games," Miller said of the team's losing streak, which included six one-run losses and five blown saves. "Today was just the first time we didn't give it back."
Surhoff's grand slam, the fifth of his career, came on a 1-0 change-up off Mendoza with one out in the seventh. But it was a double by backup catcher and No. 9 hitter Mike Figga that set up Surhoff's grand slam.
Mendoza entered the game in relief of starter Roger Clemens with the Yankees holding a 3-2 lead and Cal Ripken standing on first base, having singled in the Orioles' second run.
Mike Stanton, the Yankees' only left-handed reliever, was ready in the bullpen to face leadoff hitter Brady Anderson, who was on deck. But when Figga hit Mendoza's first pitch over Bernie Williams's head in center field, it forced Torre to stay with Mendoza, the Yankees' long reliever.
"I knew Mendoza had a good two-seamed fastball, so I was looking for it, and he just left it up," said Figga, who was with the Yankees earlier this season before being waived. "I jumped on it."
After Mendoza intentionally walked Anderson to load the bases, Mike Bordick singled to right field, tying the score and setting the stage for Surhoff's grand slam.
Surhoff also drove in the Orioles' first run with an RBI groundout in the third. The five-RBI day came four days before Yankees Manager Joe Torre will choose the American League all-star reserves.
"I don't think about [the All-Star Game]," Surhoff said. "I don't look at that stuff. It's out of my control. Look at all the outfielders having great years."
Guzman, who is 15-12 with a 3.55 earned run average for his career in July, settled down after a shaky start, in which he allowed two runs in the first and a solo home run to Chili Davis in the second.
In both the fourth and fifth innings, Guzman put two men on base with one out, but both times struck out the next two batters to escape. At one point from the fourth through the sixth, Guzman recorded seven consecutive outs via strikeouts.
"I feel like I'm getting better and better," Guzman said.
However, all those pitches Guzman threw in the early innings caught up to him. By the end of the sixth, his pitch total was 115.
When the excessive heat forced home plate umpire Greg Kosc to leave the game during the Orioles' six-run seventh, delaying the game for about 10 minutes, it all but ensured Guzman would not return to pitch the bottom of the seventh.
Guzman "started popping the ball harder after the first," Miller said. "I thought [Kosc] was slowly melting away and started calling the outside pitches [strikes] a little bit."
With Guzman gone, the Orioles would need their bullpen to get nine outs, a frightening proposition these days.
But Kamieniecki made it through the seventh and eighth relatively cleanly and set the Yankees down in order in the ninth.
Still, as easy as it appeared, Miller understandably never felt sure of victory until Derek Jeter's fly ball fell in Anderson's glove on the warning track in center to end the game.
"Jeter was fouling everything back. On deck is [Paul] O'Neill, and following him is [Bernie] Williams and [Tino] Martinez," Miller said. "So, no, I wasn't relaxed. . . . Before this game, the last time we had a 1-2-3 inning with a lead to end the game was in Chicago [on June 19]. Today was like a bucket of gold for me right now."
CAPTION: B.J. Surhoff, with Mike Figga, highlights Orioles' six-run seventh inning with grand slam, his 19th homer of season.