Yankees 6, Orioles 4
We will never know for sure, but it is at least possible that if Jerry Hairston were playing second base for the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium -- instead of making his first professional appearance as a center fielder -- he would have gotten to the bag in time to take catcher Javy Lopez's throw on a stolen base attempt in the fourth inning, and a whole series of events would not have transpired to carry the Orioles to a 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees.
Perhaps Alex Rodriguez, who took off from third base on Lopez's throw, with the Yankees trailing 1-0, would not have scored safely ahead of Brian Roberts's late throw to tie the score. Had Rodriguez been out to end the inning, instead of completing a critical double steal, Tony Clark would have never followed by lining an RBI single off Orioles starter Erik Bedard to put the Yankees ahead.
And perhaps the rookie Bedard, rather than deflating and giving up three more runs in the fifth to send himself to the showers, would have maintained the shutout for a few more innings, and the Orioles' bullpen could have carried home a win.
Instead, it was just another loss to the Yankees and just another bizarre day in the ongoing saga of the Orioles' dysfunctional roster, which got no relief from Saturday's trade deadline.
The Orioles did, in fact, wind up with a new everyday center fielder Saturday, but it was Hairston, the erstwhile slick-fielding second baseman who was told before the game that he will be the team's regular center fielder for the foreseeable future.
"He said, 'Let's do it,' " Manager Lee Mazzilli said of his conversation with Hairston. "I think he's excited about it. So I'm going to play him in center field and see where it takes us."
But Hairston hardly sounded excited after his first day on the job in center field, after the Orioles had lost to the Yankees for the 10th time in 12 games this season and the 4 p.m. trade deadline passed with the Orioles still carrying him and Roberts.
"It's hard to believe I'm not going to play second base the rest of the year," Hairston said. "I'm in shock right now. . . . You work hard to be one of the premier players at your position, and you're not able to show that."
Batting in the leadoff spot, which he owned until things started getting crowded around second base, Hairston hit a solo homer off Yankees starter Javier Vazquez (12-6) with one out in the top of the third to give the Orioles an early lead. But he also played a part in the critical sequence of the game in the bottom of the fourth, which culminated in Hideki Matsui and Rodriguez pulling off the double steal.
With one out and Rodriguez on first base following a single, Matsui hit a sinking liner into shallow center. Hairston, with all of three innings of experience in center field under his belt, charged the ball and even had the presence of mind to try to deke Rodriguez into thinking he could catch the ball.
Rodriguez, however, did not take the bait, rounding the bag and heading for third as Hairston scooped up Matsui's single. Rather than taking a stab at nailing Rodriguez at third, Hairston decided to hold onto the ball to prevent Matsui from also advancing a base.
The next batter was Ruben Sierra. Bedard, who had needed 31 pitches to close out the third inning with the Yankees leaving the bases loaded, struck out Sierra on a 3-2 fastball, but Matsui took off for second.
Lopez's throw to second, although it was wide of the bag, had Matsui beat, and Matsui actually pulled up short of the bag, perhaps in anticipation of a retreat.
But Roberts did not see this, because he was still scrambling to get to the bag, and meantime Rodriguez suddenly broke for home. So Roberts grabbed Lopez's off-line throw and heaved the ball home, but it was too late to get Rodriguez, who slid in safely with the Yankees' first steal of home in more than three years.
"Not good," Mazzilli said when asked about the play. Roberts "was late covering. He's got to cover the bag. I don't know what he was thinking."
"I broke too late," Roberts said. "I froze a little bit when [Sierra] swung the bat, in case he hit it. And by that time, I got [to the bag] late and couldn't get set to make the throw. They played it right, and we didn't."
From there, Bedard's day quickly went bad. Clark followed with a single to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and an inning later Bedard (4-6) was gone. Right fielder Karim Garcia played Derek Jeter's base hit into an RBI triple, and Rodriguez followed two batters later with his 27th homer.
"He was battling himself the whole time," Mazzilli said of Bedard, who has made it through seven innings once in 19 starts this season. "He's got to get ahead [in the count] early. He's got to get deeper in the game."
Orioles Note: Mazzilli said Hairston will remain in center field at least until Luis Matos (right shin contusion) comes back from the disabled list in several weeks, but he was noncommittal about whether Matos would get his job back.
The Orioles do not always give an incumbent player his job back when he returns from injury, as Hairston could attest.