Orioles 14, Yankees 8

The high hopes the Baltimore Orioles entertained in March and April have long since dissipated. Their September role is that of spoiler, and they will be playing it on center stage in the American League East with their remaining schedule calling for 10 games against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

If their play Friday night is any indication, the Orioles are not taking this role lightly. Baltimore opened a series with the AL East-leading Yankees by pounding New York starter Javier Vazquez en route to a 14-8 win. Coupled with the Red Sox' 13-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees' margin over Boston is 21/2 games.

"I don't like the position we're in, to be that spoiler," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said after the game. "But that's where we are. We're looking to finish in third. That's why the team is playing this way."

The Orioles took advantage of what many perceive as the Yankees' glaring weakness -- starting pitching. They got to Vazquez with two runs in the first on a home run by Miguel Tejada, then knocked out the right-hander in an eight-run third powered by a slew of singles and walks. Vazquez would end up yielding eight runs in just 21/3 innings.

"It looks like he lost command a little bit," B.J. Surhoff said, understating the obvious. The Orioles sent 13 men to the plate in the third, and three runs came in off Vazquez courtesy of either a walk or hit batsman.

Vazquez -- acquired to help replace departed starters Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells -- has allowed 27 runs in his past five starts (9.99 ERA), and hardly seems mentally nor physically able lead the Yankees in the playoffs.

After hitting Rafael Palmeiro on a 1-2 count to bring in a run in the third, Vazquez threw a tantrum on the mound, flailing his arms and stomping his feet in disgust. Frustrated Yankees fans in the stands, and there are always many at Camden Yards, appeared to be doing the same thing.

The Yankees scored three runs in the seventh, and a five-run lead never seemed so slim. But B.J. Ryan and Jorge Julio doused the threat.

"Look at that lineup," Mazzilli said. "When you put the nail in the coffin, you have to hammer it shut."

Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez was neither spectacular nor miserable, simply effective in beating the Yankees in consecutive starts. Lopez, who won his team-high 12th game, allowed five runs in 52/3 innings. Larry Bigbie, one of those players with much to prove for next season, had three hits, including one that started the eight-run rally in the third. Surhoff, one of those veterans with only pride at stake, had four RBI.

"I'd much rather be playing these guys, than someone has the same record as us or worse," Surhoff said. "It's much more enjoyable and exciting to play."

Yankees starter Javier Vazquez feels the heat in the third, when the Orioles scored eight runs.Larry Bigbie breaks his bat while connecting for one of his two singles in the Orioles' eight-run third.