Orioles lineup shoots blanks against Yankees bullpen in three-game sweep

April 12, 2012 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The cautiously optimistic vibes of a 3-0 start disintegrated quickly for the Orioles as they were handled by the New York Yankees in a three-game sweep to finish the first homestand of the season.

It’s easy to blame disgruntled reliever Kevin Gregg for Wednesday’s 6-4 loss after he gave up the game-winning two-run home run to Nick Swisher in the top of the 10th. The former closer admitted he was running out of gas during a rare second inning of work, a result of a limited bullpen playing its second straight extra-inning affair.

Gregg didn’t come through when needed, just as fellow reliever Pedro Strop gave up the game-winning hit to Raul Ibanez in the 12th inning the night before, but the real story of the series was the Orioles lineup’s inability to capitalize on numerous opportunities that would have put them in position to win two out of three against New York instead of leaving town with the momentum of a season-opening sweep of Minnesota all but gone.

The Yankees bullpen pitched 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the series, and the Baltimore bats went an anemic 5-for-33 (.152) with runners in scoring position. The Orioles also left 27 men on base over the three games.

And the end result was an all-too-familiar scene at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

“We fought; we put ourselves in the situation,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “We came back and we just kept fighting, fighting, fighting. They had the big hit and we didn’t have the big hit. We had the opportunity to get it, and we didn’t get it.”

All things considered, the Orioles pitching was acceptable — not great — against one of the most feared lineups in the major leagues. A 4.35 earned run average over the three losses put the club in a position to win had it been able to scratch together even a couple runs against Yankees relievers.

After New York starter Ivan Nova handled the Orioles in the series opener, the Orioles plated a combined eight runs against Freddy Garcia and CC Sabathia in the final two games. Sabathia’s six-inning outing on Wednesday night was his shortest against Baltimore since 2009.

“I looked at it like we did a good job with him,” manager Buck Showalter said about the four runs plated against Sabathia. “It was more after the fact that we didn’t quite get over the hump with it.”

The bats disappeared when New York’s starters were lifted as the Orioles scored just one run after the fifth inning in the entire series. The starting pitching will determine whether the Orioles can improve on a 93-loss season a year ago, but the offense needs to produce more than it showed beyond the first five innings in each of their three games against the Yankees.

They had their chance to win it in the ninth on Wednesday with a bases-loaded situation for the second straight night when Adam Jones struck out against Rafael Soriano, an at-bat that fell apart when the center fielder swung at a pitch up around his eyes to even the count at 1-1. Jones certainly wasn’t the only hitter to blink in a big spot over the three games, but his “emotional” at-bat — as Showalter famously calls situations when hitters try to do too much — is just the latest example of the Orioles falling short in winnable games against the Yankees.

Unlike Jones and J.J. Hardy, who was presented with his own bases-loaded situation on Tuesday, the Yankees came through when needed. It showed again just how far apart the two teams are — even when the score may be close.

Yes, the Orioles battled, but the same can be said about a handful of their losses to the Yankees every season. There are no moral victories in the big leagues.

“Getting swept is tough, but we’re going to compete with those guys all year as well as the other teams in our division,” starting pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “The last two games were a pretty good example of that.”

On the surface, the pitcher’s comments sound encouraging and the club shouldn’t get too down in the first week of the season, but it’s a similar mantra to what we’ve heard in past years. The Orioles were a couple runs away from winning two out of three, but they instead depart on a 10-game road trip after being swept.

At some point, you need to deliver.