Game of inches doesn't break O's way
Back-to-back outs at home follow Hernandez's solid showing
NEW YORK -- Brian Roberts has seen the replay and still doesn't know if he was safe. Baltimore's second baseman was involved in a tight play at home plate in the eighth inning on Monday and was called out, a decision that choked off the road team's best scoring chance and left the door open for the Yankees to take a 2-1 win.
Roberts, who was trying to score on a pitch that squirted away from catcher Jose Molina, said he had a mild moment of hesitation before he committed. Roberts appeared to reach toward the plate with his left hand and to touch it with his left foot, but home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson ruled that Molina made the tag in time.
With that, the Yankees (55-37) calmly progressed to the ninth inning, where Hideki Matsui victimized reliever Jim Johnson for a solo home run. From there, the only thing to do was watch the instant replays.
"I thought it was really close," said Roberts. "I watched it a couple of times, but it was hard to tell. I just asked [Johnson] where he tagged me, and he said, 'On the arm.' I didn't think he got my arm. I thought he might have gotten my leg, but I didn't know if it was [on time]. It's certainly not one you can say, 'Oh, he was definitely safe.'"
And in this case, you couldn't say the opposite, either. The ball beat Roberts to the spot by a couple of feet, but when he got close, the two-time All-Star aimed himself toward the back point of home plate. The tag appeared to come right as Roberts touched home with his foot, but Johnson made a demonstrative and definitive call.
Roberts argued briefly and manager Dave Trembley came out to support him, but the decision had already been made. Roberts, who had been standing on third base, credited coach Juan Samuel for keeping him alert.
"Actually, literally just before the pitch, Juan said, 'Watch the pitch in the dirt,'" said Roberts of the game's key moment. "I tracked the ball on the way in and then I saw it go in the dirt, but from my angle, I lost it for a second and froze because I wasn't sure exactly where it was. That split-second probably cost me a little bit. ... I still had a pretty good jump, but if I would've gone on my first instinct, I think it would've been even closer."
Before that play, rookie starter David Hernandez had stood up as the game's chief storyline. The right-hander had a rocky beginning on Monday night but pulled quite a rebuilding act, throwing 58 pitches and facing 11 batters in the first two innings and then turning around to face just 13 more through the sixth.
"David Hernandez pitched a great game," said Trembley of the youngster. "You've got to give him a lot of credit after those first two innings. He really grew up a lot and showed a lot tonight. I thought he beat them with his fastball in the middle of the ballgame. He got better. I thought he just really, really matured as a pitcher tonight."
Hernandez, to his credit, said much the same thing. The youngster admitted to feeling nervous in his first start at Yankee Stadium, but he was able to switch off the butterflies early enough to save his night. Hernandez, who gave up a home run in the second inning to Eric Hinske, allowed just one baserunner in his final four innings.
"It was my first time pitching against the Yankees, and after the first couple of innings, I just really settled down and trusted myself," Hernandez said. "For me, it just shows I belong and that I can pitch at the highest level. Facing the Yankees, I had some jitters, but you've just got to trust yourself and make each pitch count."
Hernandez, who bent but never buckled, retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced. And the Orioles (41-51) needed that type of performance, because Andy Pettitte was pitching well on the other side. The veteran southpaw gave up a home run to Nick Markakis in the first inning and was able to work into the eighth for New York.
Hernandez, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk before the game, said he can learn from the experience.
"The first two innings, I was trying to make the perfect pitch every pitch," Hernandez said. "That's just not going to happen, and sometimes you tense up and you overthrow. My changeup was a little slow out of the gates, but as the game went on, I was able to command it. I got a couple outs rolled over to first base."
The Roberts play wasn't the only close one in the eighth. Cesar Izturis, who started the rally with a one-out single, moved to third on Roberts' double and was erased at the plate on a 3-2 fielder's-choice grounder. That play sent Roberts to third, and with Adam Jones standing at the plate, it proved to be the game's most instrumental moment.
"Obviously, you've got a great hitter at the plate in Adam, but you can't count on two-out hits all the time," said Roberts, lauding Jones, the team's lone All-Star representative. "It took two good plays. [First baseman Mark] Teixeira made a good play on Izzy, and they had to make a good play to get me. I think you take your chances."
"We had guys on third two or three different times and it didn't happen," said Trembley in summation. "You're coming in here, you're facing a team like the Yankees -- they find a way to get it done, and they did."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.