Last night's game looked like it would be a cakewalk for the Yankees in the early going. Johnny Damon homered on the game's second pitch from Bruce Chen and, after Randy Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the first, the Yankees added two more runs in the second when Miguel Cairo doubled home Chris Wilson and Melky Cabrera before Chen had recorded the inning's first out.
Cairo would move to third on a Damon fly out. But when Jeter grounded to third baseman Melvin Mora, Cairo got caught in a run down for the second out. Jeter moved to second on the play, then stole third, and Bobby Abreu followed with a four-pitch walk, but Alex Rodriguez, who had been one of two runners stranded in the first when Jorge Posada struck out, grounded out to end the inning, stranding a pair of his own. The Yankees would strand two more in the top of the third when second-inning hero Cairo struck out looking, and the Orioles would take advantage starting in the bottom of the inning.
The first three hitters in the bottom of the third, Chris Gomez, Brian Roberts and Fernando Tatis, all singled, with Tatis's hit plating Gomez with the first Baltimore run. Brian Roberts then stole third and scored on a Melvin Mora ground out to close the gap to 3-2 Yanks.
The Yankees stranded two more men in the top of the fourth and went down in order in the fifth. The Orioles then struck again with two outs in the bottom of the fifth when Tatis homered, Mora doubled, and Tejada drove Mora home. Tejada's hit should have been an easy double, but the All-Star shortstop didn't run hard out of the box all night and was nailed at second by a pinpoint Bobby Abreu throw to end the inning. Still, the Orioles had a 4-3 lead, which they would hold until the top of the seventh.
With one-out in the seventh, Jason Giambi worked an eight-pitch walk against Baltimore reliever Chris Britton. Jorge Posada followed with a single, and Craig Wilson slapped a pitch up and over the plate into the right field corner for his second double of the night to score Giambi and knot the score at 4-4. With Wilson at second, Melky Cabrera was intentionally walked (!) and Joe Torre sent Bernie Williams in to hit for Cairo against the righty Britton. Coming into the game, Bernie was 0 for 8 with a walk and a hit by pitch as a pinch-hitter this year and made it 0 for 9 by popping out on the second pitch he saw. Johnny Damon then hit a screaming liner right at first baseman Chris Gomez to leave the bases loaded, pushing the Yankees left-on-base total to 12 in seven innings.
Still, with the score tied, Joe Torre turned to his bullpen, which locked down, with Ron Villone and LaTroy Hawkins (just activated from the bereavement list with Kris Benson being placed on the DL to make room) trading 1-2-3 innings and Scott Proctor pitching around a four-pitch walk to Mora thanks to a double play off the bat of Tejada in the eight.
That brought on Baltimore closer Chris Ray for the top of the ninth. The 24-year-old Ray's emergence as one of the league's top closers has been one of the few highlights of another awful season in Baltimore, but on this night he just didn't have it. Jason Giambi lead off by lining a ball into shallow right that would have been an easy single if not for an outstanding backhanded play by Brian Roberts, who was playing short field as part of the shift. Jorge Posada then launched Ray's next pitch into the night for what would prove to be the game-winning homer.
That would be all the Yankees would need, as Mariano shut the door in the ninth to wrap up the 5-4 win. With that the Yankees have tied their longest winning streak of the year, and look to win six in a row for the first time this season with a win in today's late afternoon game.
Taking the hill for the Yanks is Mike Mussina, who, by my count, has ten starts left in which to get the seven wins he'd need to reach 20 for the first time in his near-Hall of Fame career. His opposite number will be rookie lefthander Adam Loewen. Loewen completed six full innings for the first time in his major league career in his last start, a loss to the Mariners. Overall he has a 6.44 ERA and an ugly 5.90 BB/9.
In other news, Randy Johnson didn't record a single strike out last night, making it just the second time in his career that he'd failed to strike out a batter in consecutive starts. Of course Johnson's last start lasted just 3 1/3 innings and he struck out 18 in his two starts before that. Johnson also did not issue a walk last night.
Before the game Bubba Crosby was designated for assignment to allow Joe Torre to expand his bullpen to seven men in the wake of Kyle Farnsworth being hit on the pitching hand by a comebacker on Thursday (though he should be available today). Bubba reportedly left in a huff, but the writing was on the wall. With Wilson able to shift into the outfield and Cairo available to pinch run once Robinson Cano returns to the team on Tuesday (after a strong showing in Trenton last night he remains on schedule), the only thing Crosby offered the team was a supirior glove at all three outfield positions. But with Cabrera, Damon and Abreu, the Yankees have little need for a late-game defensive replacement in the outfield, save for those days when Bernie is given the start in center to rest the perpetually achy Damon. Wisely, the Yankees realized that such an occurrence would be a rare enough event that devoting a roster spot to it would be of little use. What's more, if they prove to be wrong, Aaron Guiel provides a far more valuable alternative, as he actually brings a useful lefty bat to the table as well.
As for Veras, he had a brief stay on the roster earlier in the year when Kyle Farnsworth's back first acted up. He didn't appear in any games then and has yet to make his major league debut. With Columbus, however, he's been just shy of outstanding, posting a 2.73 ERA wile striking out 9.91 men per nine innings and walking just over 3 per nine. Coming into this season, walks were his big problem. If that issue is indeed resolved, the 25-year-old Veras, who signed with the Yankees as a free agent before this season, could prove to be a valuable addition to the organization.