Yankees 12, Orioles 9

At precisely the stroke of midnight, the 54th out of a preposterous game settled into the glove of New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and the Baltimore Orioles filed silently into their clubhouse, carrying with them the baggage of another wrenching loss, a six-game losing streak and a bullpen that lacks one important ingredient: someone who can get people out.

The Orioles' 12-9 loss to the Yankees in front of 37,610 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards included a stirring sixth-inning comeback, in which they surged to a two-run lead, only to see it disintegrate in the hands of their beleaguered bullpen the following half-inning.

"You have to stay positive," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We must stay positive. I have to be positive as well."

Right fielder Gary Sheffield had four hits and six RBI, including a three-run homer, while slumping shortstop Derek Jeter had two doubles and a single for the Yankees, who improved to a staggering 41-17 against the Orioles over the past four seasons.

Once again, the Orioles' bullpen felt deeply the loss of right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, who was donated to the rotation a week ago in hopes of shoring up the team's starting pitching. What the move has done instead is wreck the bullpen.

In Lopez's absence, one Orioles reliever after another -- Darwin Cubillan, Buddy Groom, even the normally dependable B.J. Ryan (1-2) -- was spanked on the mound.

"What you have is what you have to use," said Mazzilli. ". . . . You try to mix and match it up the best you can for now."

At the same time, Lopez's own mediocre five-inning start provided even more ammunition for a growing segment of the organization that feels it was a mistake to remove him from the bullpen a week ago, where he had built an 0.33 ERA as a twice-a-week game-saver, his role made doubly important by the presence of so much youth in the rotation.

Lopez allowed only one run through four innings -- roughly the outer limit of his usage as a reliever over the first six weeks of the season -- but stumbled badly in the fifth. He gave up four runs in the inning, broken up by a 65-minute rain delay, three of them coming on Sheffield's homer to left.

Had he still been in the bullpen, it would have been a perfect situation for Lopez to defuse; instead, Orioles relievers kept the madness coming. Cubillan gave up a pair of runs in the sixth, and lefties Groom (pitching for just the second time in the last 12 days) and Ryan gave up five more in the seventh, wiping out a two-run lead and putting the Yankees up by three.

"I felt good tonight," Ryan said. "They just hit it, man. . . . They hit four balls through the infield."

Yankees second baseman Enrique Wilson tied the game with an RBI single to left -- with Ruben Sierra scoring just ahead of Larry Bigbie's throw -- and Bernie Williams, pinch hitting for Kenny Lofton, drove in the go-ahead run with a soft single to center.

Both hits came against Ryan, who succeeded Lopez as the go-to guy of the Orioles' bullpen, but who on Wednesday night allowed six straight batters to reach base (all of them right-handed batters) and needed 39 pitches to collect three outs.

"It was probably his worst outing of the year," Mazzilli said.

Only a half-inning before, the Orioles had done almost the exact same thing, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring six runs to seize the lead.

A three-run homer by veteran outfielder B.J. Surhoff off Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill with one out in the sixth reduced a 7-3 deficit to 7-6 -- part of a stretch in which the Orioles produced seven hits in a span of eight batters.

Orioles designated hitter Jerry Hairston tied the game with an RBI single to center off lefty Gabe White, and Melvin Mora, the American League's leading hitter, put the Orioles ahead two batters later with a run-scoring single to left off Tanyon Sturtze.

Mora also homered off former Oriole Mike Mussina, his ninth of the season.

Yanks' Hideki Matsui ducks after being forced at 2nd, but shortstop Miguel Tejada's throw to first was too late to complete double play.Orioles relief pitcher Darwin Cubillan watches Tony Clark, who just belted a homer to lead off the sixth that gave the Yankees a 6-3 lead.