The Orioles' tenuous lead over the Yankees in Monday night's game turned on a catchable fly ball to deep left field, and novice outfielder Fernando Tatis found himself in bad position. The erstwhile infielder sprinted back, turning one way and then the other before landing in a heap. The ball got past him and three runs scored, helping the Yankees to a 9-6 win.
"It was a tough play. Hard hit, and a lefty," Tatis said. "Every outfielder knows that when a lefty hits a ball, you always turn to the right. It was a tough play. It was going over my head, so there was nothing I could do about it."
"I thought it was a catchable ball," added Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "He looked like he got turned around in the opposite direction and couldn't get back in time. He was [right] there, but he got turned around and couldn't make the adjustment back."
Before Monday's game, Tatis had just two career starts in the outfield. Baltimore has been using utilityman Brandon Fahey as its left fielder, and ever since Corey Patterson got hurt, former infielder David Newhan has served as the starting center fielder. Fahey got the night off Monday, thanks to Randy Johnson, New York's southpaw starter.
All of Baltimore's regular outfielders -- Patterson, Newhan, Fahey, Nick Markakis and even designated hitter Jay Gibbons -- are left-handed hitters. Tatis was in the game to give the O's a different look, and it didn't work.
"If he makes that play, we're out of the inning [with a] 5-4 [lead]. That pretty much told the story, I think," said Perlozzo. "We're in a situation where we've got two infielders playing the outfield. That's really all we've got. ... Fernando works hard out there, every day, on it. It's just what we have right now."
That play was part of a six-run rally for New York, a burst that came right after Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez left the game. Lopez had pitched as a reliever just two days ago, but scheduled starter Kris Benson came down with a case of strep throat. Lopez stepped in and had his best stuff, holding the Yanks (86-56) to two runs in six innings.
"He pitched great. He was outstanding," Perlozzo said. "I was a little worried. He had thrown two days before. I was going to take him out in the sixth, but he said he was fine and he absolutely wanted to go back out there. He went out and pitched us a good inning, so he did plenty good enough. He did his job better than we thought he would do."
With a four-run lead and nine outs to go, the Orioles went to rookie reliever Jim Hoey. Hoey (0-1) hit the first batter he faced, and New York loaded the bases on a fielder's choice, a walk and a single. The Yankees got one run on a fly ball and another on a single, and with two outs, the game turned on Robinson Cano's three-run drive to Tatis.
"I felt good tonight. That's the weird part," said Hoey, who was charged with six earned runs. "I felt like I was in control. I was [hitting] my spots. There were a couple spots I did miss that were key to the inning. ... That's what's going to happen. The difference between the Minor Leagues and here is that one pitch will get you."
"When he needed to make a pitch, he kind of tried to overthrow it. Up to this point, I haven't seen him have better command," said Perlozzo. "We've been pretty consistent all along with our kids, trying to nurse them through early on, trying to get them some experience. The better he does, the better chance he'll get.
"I thought our guy on the mound had the best chance to get them out. He really should've -- he had them out."
New York took the game's first lead in the second inning and wouldn't score again until the seventh. Baltimore (62-81) scored once in the third inning and three times in the fifth to seize control. Third baseman Melvin Mora had a two-run single in that latter rally, and shortstop Miguel Tejada hit a sacrifice fly to give the O's a two-run lead.
Johnson (17-10) pitched well in the early innings but absorbed all the damage in the fifth. He also gave up another run in the sixth, but the six-run rally took him off the hook. Since joining the Yankees, Johnson is 5-0 with a 3.48 ERA against Baltimore, and overall, he's won seven straight decisions against the Orioles.
"It's always hard when you battle the whole game and then one inning late in the game, the whole game is gone," said Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez. "They are in first place for a reason. They never quit, they never give up. We didn't make a pitch when we needed to."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.