BALTIMORE -- Closer Koji Uehara squatted in front of the mound, his chest facing center field and his head bowed. Despite an attempt from catcher Matt Wieters to pat him on the back, Uehara -- who had just served up a decisive three-run homer to Alex Rodriguez -- was inconsolable.
At 58-89, the Orioles aren't playing for an American League Wild Card berth or chasing a pennant, but make no mistake: Friday's 4-3 loss -- which forced an eager home dugout to curb its preemptive celebration -- felt like a fatal blow.
Though a firework accidentally went off at Camden Yards for Rodriguez's first homer -- a solo shot in the second inning -- his decisive ninth-inning blast needed no pomp and circumstance. Instead it gave the Yankees their third win in 11 games -- two of which have come off Uehara -- and left the Orioles and their closer questioning what might have been.
"The pitch before the home run, the fastball inside, I didn't get that call," Uehara said through interpreter Jiwon Bang of his 1-2 offering, which home-plate umpire Ted Barrett ruled a ball. "[I'm] a little disappointed."
And he let that carry over, grooving a 2-2 fastball that wasn't nearly as inside, a middle-of-the-plate pitch that has been a breeding ground for Rodriguez's infamous blasts.
"I didn't think it was close," Rodriguez said of the pitch called a ball. "It was a good no-call ... and [the Orioles'] whole dugout literally jumped ... hoping or expecting that to be strike three. So they laughed at me, and I laughed at them a little."
But it was the defending World Series champion Yankees who got the last laugh, handing the Orioles their third loss in 12 games and dropping their record to 26-16 under manager Buck Showalter.
"It was close," Showalter said of Uehara's 1-2 pitch. "It was obviously a better pitch than strike one to [Matt] Wieters [in the ninth]. I'll tell you that."
Tasked with protecting a two-run lead, Uehara -- who got away from his split-finger fastball -- instead watched a split crowd of 32,874 at Camden Yards react in half-horror and half-celebration as Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson and Rodriguez circled the bases.
Posada -- who'd singled after an 11-pitch at-bat -- got things started, turning it over to the top of the Yankees' order. After Uehara sent down Derek Jeter looking at strikes, Granderson punched a single into right field to bring go-ahead run Mark Teixeira to the plate. Uehara got Teixeira on a popup and put Rodriguez in a 1-2 hole before the rest of the fateful sequence unfolded.
"It's unfortunate. Koji's been pitching well for us, [he] just didn't get it quite far enough in there and paid the price," Showalter said. "But they had a lot of good at-bats to get to that situation, too. ... [To] hold those types of runs, and having that opportunity at the end, I'll take our chances."
That the Orioles were staked to a lead at all was no small feat considering the way Millwood fared early, allowing a second-inning leadoff homer to Rodriguez and loading the bases after that. But the 35-year-old veteran didn't cave, striking out No. 9 batter Francisco Cervelli and getting Jeter -- on the eighth pitch of the at-bat -- to line out to third baseman Robert Andino. It was the lone run Millwood would allow over seven innings, in his sixth quality start in eight outings.
"It was a little shocking that we shot off fireworks for an opposing team's home run," Millwood said. "That wasn't the best thing in the world. But after that it was big to get bases loaded there and be able to get out of it. ... [It] probably gave us a little momentum. It definitely gave me a little momentum going forward."
Millwood retired eight of nine batters and needed just 19 pitches to get through the next two frames, getting the big outs when necessary. He started to waver in the seventh, issuing a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Posada and, following a three-pitch strikeout of Jeter, gave Granderson a free pass to put the tying run in scoring position. But Millwood quashed any thoughts of a rally, sending Teixeira back to the bench on a foul-tip strikeout.
"I was real proud of the way Kevin pitched," Showalter said. "We'll take those types of opportunities every time that our pitching gives [them to] us."
Millwood's outing, which lowered the rotation's ERA to 1.61 over the last 10 games, was followed by a scoreless eighth from setup man Jim Johnson, who turned the ball over to Uehara.
"It was tough for us," Millwood said of the loss, which cost him his fourth win this season. "I think we all feel good when we've got a lead in the ninth and Koji runs out there, we all feel like that he's going to get the job done."
Mound counterpart A.J. Burnett also fell victim to the homer, allowing both Adam Jones and Robert Andino to club solo shots. The O's pushed across their first run in the third after No. 9 batter Cesar Izturis was plunked by Burnett's 0-2 pitch. Izturis stole second and moved to third base on Brian Roberts' groundout to the right side, then Nick Markakis lifted a sacrifice fly to center to even the score at 1.
But the three runs were all the O's could muster, as New York's David Robertson and Mariano Rivera retired the final six.
"It's not that I'm going to die from [the feeling of blowing the game]," Uehara said. "So [I'll] just start all over tomorrow."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.