No doubt, as late as the middle of the sixth inning last night's game looked like a replay of Mike Mussina's last start against the Orioles, when the Yankees mustered just one hit against O's starter Adam Loewen while Moose allowed just three runs and was saddled with a hard-luck loss.
Indeed, the score was 3-0 O's after five and a half last night with the Yanks having managed just three singles and a walk through five and O's starter Erik Bedard having set down eleven Yanks in a row between the first and fifth innings. The Orioles, meanwhile, scored their first run on a one-out solo homer by Kevin Millar in the fifth then got two more in the sixth due in part to yet another Alex Rodriguez error.
Brian Roberts led off the sixth with a double and moved to third when Melvin Mora followed with a single. Miguel Tejada then flied out to right, but Roberts hold at third out of respect for Bobby Abreu's arm. Alas, Roberts would score anyway as Jay Gibbons followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch. Jeff Conine then hit Mussina's next offering right at Rodriguez at third, but as Alex charged the ball he got caught on an in-between hop and rather than turning an inning-ending double play he booted the ball and fired wide and late to first as Mora scored with the third Oriole run. Fortunately, Mike Mussina kept it together and picked up his third baseman by retiring the next two batters to strand Gibbons and Conine.
Fortunately, Bedard proved no more durable than Mussina on this night as, after the Yanks made a bit of noise in the fifth when Jorge Posada reached on an slow dribbler to third and Craig Wilson followed him with just the third Yankee single of the night, they finally broke through in the sixth. Jeter lead-off the inning with an infield single and was pushed to third when a pair of seven-pitch walks to Abreu and the mustachioed Jason Giambi loaded the bases for Rodriguez, who promptly redeemed himself with an RBI single.
Unfortunately, that run would be all the Yanks could muster from that bases loaded, no outs opportunity. Robinson Cano struck out swinging at a hard inside fastball for the first out. Jorge Posada then followed by lacing what looked like a sure game-tying double to left, but Melvin Mora lept straight up and snatched the ball out of the air for the second out. The ball was hit so hard that the impact of the ball in Mora's glove actually sprained his thumb, forcing him out of the game. Craig Wilson then grounded out on Bedard's next pitch to end the Yankee threat.
Abreu's arm was again a factor in the top of the seventh. On in relief of Mussina, who threw 104 pitches in his six innings, Ron Villone walked two of the three batters he faced. Scott Proctor then came in and surrendered a single to Chris Gomez, who had replaced Mora in the previous half inning, but the threat of Abreu's arm in right held lead runner Roberto Hernandez at third and kept him there after Tejada took an odd golf-like swing on a belt-high pitch and flew out to right. Indeed, Abreu fired a one-hop strike to Posada that likely would have nailed the Oriole catcher. Proctor then got Gibbons to fly out to escape the jam.
With Bedard's night also over after a Mussina-like 106 pitches over six innings, the Yanks did what the Orioles failed to do, by pouncing on the Baltimore bullpen. Melky Cabrera lead off the seventh against LaTroy Hawkins with a single and Johnny Damon followed with a home run into the old Yankee bullpen to tie the game. The home run was identical to his last, which came in Saturday's game against the Angels. Damon has now hit 11 of his 17 home runs at home, all to right field. Conversely 16 of his 25 doubles and three of his four triples have come on the road.
After Derek Jeter grounded out, Bobby Abreu doubled to right and took third when right fielder Nick Markakis misplayed the ball. The O's then intentionally walked Giambi to let the righty Hawkins face Rodriguez, who promptly fouled out to Millar on a first-pitch fastball in on his hands. Sam Perlozzo then brought in lefty Tim Byrdak to face Robinson Cano, who had struck out with the bases loaded and none out in the previous inning. This time Robbie got the job done by lacing a double over third that plated Abreu with the go-ahead run.
After Proctor worked a 1-2-3 eighth, The Yanks added two in the bottom of the inning when Damon tripled home a one-out Cabrera single and Jeter plated Damon with a sac fly to right to put the final score at 6-3. Mariano Rivera picked up the last three outs, though it took him 24 pitches to do so due to a seven-pitch strike out of Ramon Hernandez and an 11-pitch at-bat by Brian Roberts that ended in a two-out single.
Meanwhile, up in Boston the Red Sox lost a sterling pitchers duel between 39-year-old Curt Schilling and 23-year-old Jeremy Bonderman 3-2 when the Tigers' Craig Monroe delivered a two-out RBI single off Mike Timlin in the top of the ninth, negating a game-tying two-out single by David Ortiz from the previous half inning. The game was also notable for the fact that Ivan Rodriguez made his first major league appearance at second base after Placido Polanco separated his shoulder making a fantastic diving catch in the bottom of the seventh. Rodriguez, who played second in little league and once discussed moved to second to extend his career while with Texas, only got one chance at the position, a pop out behind first which he tracked down just fine for the first out in the bottom of the ninth.
With the Red Sox loss the Yankees' lead in the AL East increases to three games while the Sox remain three games out in third place in the Wild Card race. Of course, as Yogi said, it ain't over 'til it's over.