Yankees 8, Orioles 7

When Lee Mazzilli pulled his car into the parking lot at Yankee Stadium and walked through the security gate Tuesday afternoon, television cameras were there to film it for the intro to that night's telecast.

Throughout the afternoon, a parade of well-wishers stopped by his small office in the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse, filling it with old stories and cigarette smoke.

This was Mazzilli's grand homecoming to the city where he was born and raised, and where he enjoyed his best years in the game in two boroughs. But he was returning with his pride wounded. In three lopsided losses to the Yankees at home last week, Mazzilli's Orioles appeared overmatched, outmanned and outclassed.

Mazzilli had hoped to gain validation in the city that has always embraced him, but as he drove back to his Connecticut home late Tuesday night, the troubles on his mind included an ace pitcher who was shelled yet again, a bullpen that lacks a right-hander who can get anyone out and an 8-7 loss to the Yankees that only served to crush his spirits even further because of how it happened.

After Sidney Ponson's latest mound disaster -- 7 runs, 12 hits and 3 homers allowed in 52/3 innings -- the Orioles rallied valiantly against the Yankees' bullpen, only to leave the go-ahead runs on base.

Down 8-3 in the ninth, the Orioles scored four runs against the Yankees' bullpen on two-run singles by Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez, both against closer Mariano Rivera. But B.J. Surhoff flied out to left field to end the game and Rivera earned his 19th save.

"I'm proud of the way my guys battled back," Mazzilli said. "But there's only so many times you can come back. Sooner or later, it's going to shut down."

The loss snapped the Orioles' four-game winning streak and dropped them to 17-43 against the Yankees over the past four seasons.

New York's Derek Jeter had four hits, including a pair of homers and a double, and drove in three runs; if only he could face the Orioles every day, no one would ever harp on his subpar numbers again. Including Tuesday night, he is hitting .550 (11-20) with nine RBI in four games against the Orioles, and .201 (40 for 199) against everyone else.

Ponson, whom the team brought back this winter in hopes he would become their ace, fell to 3-6 and watched his earned run average balloon to 6.48 after his second straight beating at the hands of the Orioles' division rivals in a span of five days.

Instead of an ace, Ponson has become an enigma. Despite three complete games this season, he has yielded seven or more runs in exactly half of his 12 starts.

"It puzzles everybody," Ponson said. "I don't know what's going on."

Partly because of a bullpen with a glaring lack of depth, Mazzilli left Ponson in for 128 pitches -- 17 more than he had thrown in any other start. "He's still the guy you've got to go to," Mazzilli said.

A Yankees lineup featuring no fewer than five switch-hitters gave Ponson no reprieve and made bullpen matchups in the later innings nearly impossible.

The Yankees pounded Ponson for 12 hits, matching his career high, including homers by Hideki Matsui, Jeter and Jorge Posada.

On Matsui's homer, a two-run job in the second, Ponson missed Lopez's target by a good foot and a half. One batter earlier, Posada reached on a double when center fielder Luis Matos lost his fly ball in the twilight sky -- the second time this season that has happened to Matos.

Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, who defected from Baltimore after the 2000 season for $88.5 million of George Steinbrenner's money, improved to 7-3 against his former teammates with a six-inning effort that was more effective than it was pretty.

The Orioles put Mussina through a taxing 35-pitch first inning, scoring a pair of runs and leaving another pair on the corners when Matos lined out. However, Mussina began pitching more economically, and he made it through six innings in 104 pitches, improving his record this season to 6-4.

Orioles Notes: Right fielder Jay Gibbons was placed on the disabled list after the game, after experiencing another episode of back spasms while standing in the outfield during batting practice Monday afternoon in Boston. Tim Raines Jr. was recalled from Class AAA Ottawa to take his place.

"I can't be a man short [anymore]. I can't afford to keep sitting on [the decision] when I can get someone here to fill the gap," Mazzilli said.

Gibbons has not played since May 25. The Orioles backdated the transaction to May 26, making him eligible to be activated on June 10.

"Obviously, I want to do what's best for the team and so does Mazzilli," Gibbons said. "If that means going to the disabled list . . . so be it." . . .

Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora had two hits to raise his league-leading batting average to .387. His .384 average entering the game was the highest average by an Oriole at the end of May since Robby Alomar's .397 in 1996. His .402 average during the month ranked third in the league and his 43 hits were the most by an Oriole since Brooks Robinson had 49 in May 1961.

Yankees' Hideki Matsui socks two-run homer in 2nd inning off Sidney Ponson, who was clubbed for seven runs and 12 hits in 52/3 innings.