Lead gets away from Orioles in opener
Hernandez's homer, Huff's two RBI singles go for naught
BALTIMORE -- When in doubt, throw the ball. The Orioles saw their lead disappear on a wild play at the plate on Friday night, a game-changing wild pitch that allowed the Yankees to tie the score. Catcher Ramon Hernandez may have had a play, but he underhanded the ball to reliever Kam Mickolio to let a key run score in a 9-4 loss for Baltimore.
The Orioles had led for most of the game before that play, but Yankees left fielder Xavier Nady singled in the go-ahead run a few moments later. The Yankees went on to add four runs in the ninth inning on a pair of long home runs by Cody Ransom and Nady, but the game all came back to that wild pitch and subdued flip back to the plate.
Mickolio, who reached the plate in plenty of time to confront the sliding runner, had to reach up to catch the ball before bending down to make the tag. Bobby Abreu was able to slide safely through Mickolio's planted legs, and the Yankees never looked back.
In the aftermath, Hernandez said that he only had one play, and that was to toss it to the plate easily.
"It was too close," Hernandez said. "I might throw it too hard and he doesn't catch it. Any time you're that close, you just flick it."
"It really shouldn't have been a play at the plate either way, so it's hard to say," added Mickolio, taking responsibility for the wild pitch that started the sequence. "It was close, I thought, but we shouldn't have been in that situation."
That situation made Jamie Walker, the Orioles' only veteran in a sea of rookies and journeymen, the pitcher of record. And it also put rookie Radhames Liz, who had started the game, on the hook for not making it through five innings.
The hard-throwing Liz allowed New York's first three batters to reach base in the first inning. But instead of folding and giving in to the pressure of a big inning, he buckled down and got a key double-play ball to escape just one run down. He stranded two runners in scoring position in the second inning and cruised into the fifth with a two-run lead.
That's when his evening changed. New York second baseman Robinson Cano drilled a fastball from Liz out onto Eutaw Street and off the green awning that houses Boog's BBQ, a culinary staple at Camden Yards. Catcher Jose Molina followed with a line-drive homer that barely cleared the left-field fence, tying the game and putting the Orioles on edge.
"[His] velocity was about the same, some was a little better. But the second and third time around, there were pitches up," said manager Dave Trembley of Liz. "I thought the key to the whole game was [that] we didn't get [Bobby] Abreu out at all. And he won't chase bad pitches. That's probably why he is as good of a hitter as he is."
Liz exited with two outs in the fifth, and his bullpen initially held serve. Baltimore (61-66) took its final lead on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and went into the eighth still up one run. Walker took the ball in that spot and promptly allowed a leadoff single to Abreu -- who went 5-for-5 -- and a double by Alex Rodriguez, the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player.
Walker (1-1) went on to get one out, and the game turned on the first batter faced by Mickolio. The rookie threw a wild pitch to Nady, and Abreu steamed home ahead of the toss from Hernandez. Nady went on to punch a go-ahead single to right field, and the Yankees (68-60) went even farther ahead on a pair of monstrous home runs in the ninth inning.
"The key in the whole inning is Abreu," Trembley said. "You get Abreu out, all that other stuff doesn't occur. But Abreu goes in there, he's a real savvy hitter, and he didn't chase. ... He got himself in a good count and whacked it. Then Rodriguez, you're looking for a double-play ball or at least get him out in front of something, and it's a changeup up, and he hits it."
"If I [keep Abreu] off base," said Walker, "and get one out and then face A-Rod, maybe I get a ground ball with [Jason] Giambi and the whole game changes. The last thing I wanted to do was walk him. If I could take that one 3-2 changeup back, I probably should have thrown a fastball, but we're perfect in hindsight. My job is to go after him, and I did. I didn't beat myself."
Trembley, who hooked Liz early, didn't want to risk the rookie giving up a third home run in the fifth. And he said that his bullpen has been stretched by the loss of George Sherrill, forcing everyone into new roles.
"There's an example where you're squeezing guys into situations, for the most part, they haven't been before," Trembley said. "You're either ... trying to get more out of somebody or you're putting guys in situations earlier than you like."
Designated hitter Aubrey Huff delivered two run-scoring singles in the early innings, and Hernandez gave the Orioles a 3-1 lead with a solo home run in the fourth. The Yankees tied the game on two home runs in the fifth and put things away with the pair of home runs in the ninth. Trembley said that all the long balls came on flat pitches.
"They had 'hit me' stamped on them," Trembley said. "The ones [Fernando] Cabrera threw at the end might have had double 'hit me' on them. They just hung there. A slider that hung and a fastball to Nady looked like it was one of those Slinkys."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.