09/03/09 12:14 AM ET
Orioles can't avert sweep by Yankees
Baltimore bullpen falters in late innings
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Strangely, the team that leads the Majors in home runs didn't get any extra-base hits in the closing salvo. New York had two walks and seven hits in the frame, victimizing Jim Johnson and Dennis Sarfate. The Yankees batted around and saw their top two hitters -- Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon -- reach base twice.
"It was a game until the ninth, and then it got away," said manager Dave Trembley. "Heck, it's a one-run game going into the ninth inning. All you want is a chance. We had a chance, and it got away."
And it didn't just get away -- it took flight. Johnson came in to hold a one-run deficit, but he sandwiched two walks around a single by Damon. Alex Rodriguez followed with a two-run bloop up the middle, and Hideki Matsui followed with another run-scoring hit before Trembley went back to the bullpen.
Johnson -- who faced five hitters -- saw his ERA balloon nearly three-quarters of a run (from 3.12 to 3.86). Sarfate didn't have much more success, coaxing two fly balls but giving up four run-scoring hits.
New York has now beaten Baltimore in 10 straight games, a streak that stretches all the way back to the second week of May.
"We played them tight the whole way," said Johnson. "They had their opportunities, and we stopped them early. If we could've kept it close, I don't think they had [Mariano] Rivera available tonight, [so] who knows what could have happened if we get a 1-2-3 outing out of me. Obviously, the floodgates opened, and it's all my fault."
Baltimore (54-80) seemed to have the game in control in the early innings, when it took the game's first lead in the first inning and loaded the bases in the second. New York ace CC Sabathia (16-7) managed to escape that second jam on a pair of strikeouts, then he kept the Orioles scoreless through the seventh inning.
"It seems like all the good ones, if you don't get them early, you're not going to get them," said Trembley of Sabathia. "They get a little wiggle room and they get out of it and they get their second wind, so to speak, and they get more in a rhythm and more of a groove. He's got to feel pretty good out there knowing that, sooner or later, in all probability, somebody over there is going to hit one for them or come through with the big inning."
In this case, that's exactly what happened. The Yankees (85-48) tied the game in the third inning on a home run by Eric Hinske, marking the 15th straight game in which New York has homered against Baltimore. Orioles starter Jason Berken pitched into the sixth inning without allowing another run.
The right-hander has racked up a 2.81 ERA over his past three starts but settled for a no-decision on Wednesday. He allowed a leadoff hit in the sixth, then got a potential double-play ball hit right to Melvin Mora. Mora bobbled a bad hop and got the runner at first, and Trembley elected to go to his bullpen.
"I think I've gotten better," said Berken of the three outings. "Like I've been saying all year, I feel like I'm getting better and feel like I'm close. Tonight was one of those outings where I'm happy with the way I threw the ball. The biggest thing was being able to keep the ball in the park and keep it on the ground for the most part."
Things began to turn in the seventh, setting up a dramatic endgame. Damon netted a leadoff single against Kam Mickolio, and Nick Swisher doubled on a hit-and-run to push two runners into scoring position. The Orioles opted to stay with Mickolio, but Rodriguez singled to short center field to punch home two key runs.
Nolan Reimold made it a 3-2 game with a solo homer off Brian Bruney in the eighth inning, but the Yankees went to matchup relievers Phil Coke and Phil Hughes to stop Baltimore short with a fly ball and a line drive.
"To put it in perspective," said Trembley of the massive turnaround in the eighth and ninth, "we hit three line drives right on the nose in the eighth inning and got nothing for it. And they get a couple balls that find the chalk and off the end of the bat, and that opens up the [ninth] inning. That's the unfortunate part of the game."
Baltimore hadn't lost 10 consecutive contests to the Yankees since 1955, and the skid is the Orioles' longest against any team since dropping 12 straight to Tampa Bay last season. The O's have been outscored, 70-30, during the 10-game skid and will face the Yankees three more times -- with all three games in Yankee Stadium.
"They've got the total package. Plain and simple," said Trembley of the Yankees. "They're not 36 or 37 games over .500 for nothing. Look at their lineup, look at the arms they run out there. They have Major League-quality players that get it done night after night after night. They have people out there who have done it before. And they've got guys who are having tremendous seasons individually, and they're doing that as well as a club."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.