Yankees 9, Orioles 7
The final pitch of a painful and grueling game splintered the bat of Rafael Palmeiro. Rookie Aaron Rakers, the only Baltimore Orioles' reliever not used in the game, stood up from his isolated seat in the bullpen, stretched his long arms and legs then jogged toward the clubhouse. He had not pitched, but forced to watch the game, he appeared tired.
The game-deciding home runs in the Yankees' 9-7 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards by Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui against Baltimore closer Jorge Julio came suddenly, deciding the 3-hour 55-minute marathon that occurred because neither Baltimore starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera nor the other nine Baltimore pitchers, who walked a season-high 14, could throw a strike. Cabrera walked four in the first inning, including Ruben Sierra with the bases loaded to drive in the Yankees' first run. Eighteen of the 32 pitches thrown by Cabrera in the inning were balls. He was lifted with two outs in the second inning after yielding two singles and walking two more.
Only one of the first seven pitchers used by the Orioles threw more strikes than balls. Baltimore used 10 pitchers, the most in a major league nine-inning game. The Orioles' bullpen blew a 6-2 lead. The Orioles were actually lucky. The Yankees stranded 17 batters, their most since 1994.
Sunday's game ended a miserable week for Julio. On Sept. 5 the closer entered a tie game in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium and walked four batters to lose the game. Two days later in a tie game, Julio allowed a ninth-inning two-run homer to Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer. On the next pitch Julio sent a fastball over the head of Twins infielder Augie Ojeda. Julio was immediately ejected. The pitch later drew the ire of Ojeda and Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire. On Friday the commissioner's office suspended Julio four games, ruling he intentionally threw at Ojeda's head. Julio is appealing the suspension.
"I haven't had luck this week," Julio said in Spanish.
It is easy to forget Julio is only 25 years old and was thrust into a role he was hardly prepared for. Julio was a starting pitcher who become a closer in the minor leagues in 2001. The next season, a 23-year-old Julio was asked to save games for the Orioles. He was ahead of the pace set by his idol Mariano Rivera, who pitched a perfect ninth on Sunday for his 48th save of the year.
"I have tremendous respect for him," Julio said of Rivera. "He's the best in the world."
After a two-year apprenticeship under John Wetteland, Rivera, at age 27, was given the closer's role in 1997. Yankees Manager Joe Torre remembers Rivera often was down after bad outings. It was not so long ago, Rivera hung his head and wondered whether the closer role was meant for him.
"The first blown saves affected me," Rivera said in Spanish. "But I learned I couldn't do anything about it. The first few games were difficult but I had a manager who had confidence in me. The rest is history."
Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli is trying to provide the same type of support for Julio.
"He's going to be out there tomorrow," Mazzilli said.
Rivera believes Julio, now 2-5 with a 4.15 ERA this year, is not so far from becoming a dominant closer. Rivera said Julio, like many young closers, must learn to not rely so much on his powerful fastball. The key is pitch selection and location.
"He has the abilities," Rivera said. "Not every pitcher can throw 97, 98, 100 [mph]. He has that advantage. The rest depends on the person. You have to want to do it. If you don't have the desire, then he won't be able to do it. It's all desire."
Julio vows he is not a defeated pitcher. He's proud of what he's done in his three years as the Orioles' closer, and said despite what many people think, his confidence is neither shattered nor splintered.
Orioles Notes: The Orioles have decided to shut down starting pitcher Erik Bedard for the remainder of the season. Lefty Matt Riley, who allowed just one run in seven innings on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins, will take Bedard's place in the rotation and will pitch on Wednesday against the Blue Jays. Bedard, who missed last season with elbow ligament replacement surgery, is 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA in a career-high 1331/3 innings. On Wednesday, Bedard threw 73 pitches in just two innings in a loss to the Twins. The Orioles were concerned Bedard's high pitch count could hurt his surgically repaired arm.
"You have to remember he's a young kid coming off 'Tommy John' [surgery]," Mazzilli said. "There's no question he has the stuff to pitch in this league. There's very few left-handers who have that quality arm."