Orioles 17, Yankees 9

-- It is almost childlike to watch a pennant chase with so much glee. There is, no doubt, joy in seeing a race between two teams playing games at the same time in different places. Even when the teams are Boston and New York, who have almost exclusively shared in all the American League East postseason joy recently. At least this race, which has turned into a heated sprint to the finish, all baseball fans can enjoy.

There was much to be settled when the Orioles and Yankees began their game Tuesday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a game that ended in a 17-9 Baltimore win. The two teams atop the AL East were tied as a result of Boston's early afternoon win against the Toronto Blue Jays several hundred miles away in Boston. All night, the Yankees and Red Sox -- playing the second game of a doubleheader -- went back and forth, at some point each thinking they could gain a game on the other.

"You can't help but watch the scoreboard," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said.

It began optimistically for the Yankees when Derek Jeter sent Bruce Chen's second pitch of the game far over the center field wall, landing in New York's bullpen. Chen appeared rattled but got out of the inning.

New York concerns grew when Yankees starter Mike Mussina was knocked out of the game after just 12/3 innings, his shortest outing since 1995. Mussina allowed seven hits and five earned runs and heard more questions about whether his tender right elbow had been a factor.

"I was the same as I was the other day," said Mussina, who allowed one earned run in his start last week against the Orioles. "Nothing is physically different."

In the third inning, events took place that would make any Boston fan queasy. At approximately 8:14 p.m. Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun homered over the right field wall at Fenway Park against Curt Schilling, cutting the Red Sox' lead to one. A minute later Gary Sheffield launched a two-run home run at Camden Yards off Chen to narrow Baltimore's lead to 5-3. Alarmed Red Sox fans might have viewed it as a sign of things to come.

Thirty minutes later, both leads threatened to unravel. In Boston, Schilling gave up two runs and Toronto had men on base. In Baltimore, the Yankees, with a grand slam by Sheffield, rallied against Chen in the fourth inning. Sheffield's home run gave the Yankees a 7-5 lead and brought roars from the mostly pro-Yankees crowd.

Though they ultimately find themselves eager to finish a lost season, the Orioles fought back and ended a nine-game losing streak.

Schilling, in Boston, at approximately 9:01 p.m., struck out Reed Johnson to end a scoreless sixth for Toronto. Two minutes later, Jay Gibbon's two-run home run sparked an Orioles rally.

In Baltimore it was only beginning to get ugly. Three Yankees relievers walked four, gave up two hits and five runs, thereby putting the game out of reach for New York.

"It's one of those games where we're talking to ourselves about how it played out," said Yankees reliever Al Leiter, who gave up three earned runs. "When you're called upon, I don't care if you haven't pitched in five days; we as major league pitchers, we have to be prepared for any situation."

At one point in the inning, Torre slowly emerged from the Yankees' dugout and half-heartedly lifted his left hand, calling for reliever Wayne Franklin, who had a 6.10 ERA prior to Tuesday. Torre had no other options. New York pitchers threw 224 pitches and walked nine.

"We never picked the right guy from the bullpen," Torre said. "Not one thing I did worked. . . . I had some interesting conversations out there on the mound since I was out there so many times."

At about 10 p.m., while New York threatened to fall out of first place, the Red Sox sent rookie Craig Hansen, the 26th pick of this year's draft, to the mound with men on second and third in a tie game. Hansen allowed a sacrifice fly and it appeared New York, despite its sorry effort, would get a reprieve.

The last New York rally was thwarted at 10:36 p.m., when Bernie Williams struck out with a man on third after the Yankees had scored a run on third baseman Melvin Mora's error. Only moments later, the Blue Jays, with a sacrifice fly, extended their lead to 7-5.

At 10:51 David Ortiz grounded out to end Boston's game. Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, only a spectator in Baltimore, approached Torre in the dugout.

"The game is over in Boston, skip," Martinez said.

The final out in Baltimore, which came 4 hours 16 minutes after the first pitch, was mercifully recorded. On Wednesday, both the Red Sox and Yankees will do it all over again.