Orioles starter Radhames Liz answered the call for improved results on Friday night, when he pitched in a tough atmosphere and wound up with his second straight quality start for the first time in his career. Liz, an erratic rookie forced by injuries to serve as a rotation stalwart, worked into the seventh inning and allowed three runs in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees.
And why was that so noteworthy? Liz had never posted back-to-back outings in which he'd pitched six innings, and he had lasted that long just five times in his first 20 big league starts. Orioles manager Dave Trembley has said that September would be an important evaluation month for Liz, and the right-hander handed Trembley a key data point on Friday night.
"It's good for him and good for our club -- he pitched well enough to win," said Trembley, evaluating his starter's performance. "He's shown us what we've been hopeful to see all year from him. This is a good time for him to leave on a real good note. Obviously, our needs are pitching, and he's setting himself up to be thought of very favorably."
The Orioles lost one run on a highlight-reel catch at the center-field wall and had another run erased at the plate on a strong throw, and they still had the wherewithal to push the potential tying run to third base in the ninth inning. But the key to the evening was Liz, who allowed just two extra-base hits and managed to stay out of a big inning.
That performance probably ranked as the second best of Liz's season and perhaps his career, standing right next to the eight innings of shutout ball he fired against the Twins in his last outing. Liz (6-6) didn't let that memory or the historic nature of the last series in the history of Yankee Stadium weigh him down, throwing strikes and challenging batter after batter.
In fact, speaking through interpreter Juan Samuel, Liz said that the Minnesota start helped prime him for this one.
"He said his last outing at home really showed him the potential that he has," said Samuel, Baltimore's third-base coach and infield instructor, who dabbles as an interpreter for Liz. "He always knew he had it, but the confidence wasn't there. That last outing at home gave him a lot of confidence, built him up and helped him get through this outing tonight."
Baltimore (67-85) fed Liz a lead early, working a run off Yankees starter Carl Pavano in each of the first two innings. Brian Roberts doubled in the first inning and scored on a two-out single by Aubrey Huff to break the game's scoreless deadlock. The Orioles added on in the second, when Adam Jones singled, stole second base and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lou Montanez.
The Yankees (83-71) went down in order early before breaking back into the game in the third inning. Robinson Cano hit a solo homer to lead off, and Ivan Rodriguez scored the tying run on a gap double to left-center field by center fielder Brett Gardner. The Yankees took the lead for good in the fifth, taking advantage of two singles and a wild pitch from Liz.
But still, the Orioles had seen what they wanted to see. Liz, thought by many to have a better future as a reliever than a starter, worked quickly in the early innings and didn't back down the second and third time through the batting order. The 25-year-old walked just three batters, and none of them really played into either of New York's scoring rallies.
"We need more of that from him," said Trembley. "He repeated his delivery. You can see what the Yankees did to him the second and third time around. They worked the count much better. The first couple of innings, he was real sharp."
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis was cut down at the plate on a throw from Gardner in the first inning, and Luke Scott got robbed by the rookie in the fourth. Scott led off with a blast to the furthest part of the park, but Gardner got back to the wall and made a leaping catch. Gardner came down hard after the catch, pausing a moment before he showed the ball.
"God must be a Yankee fan," said Scott of Gardner's leaping catch. "You're up there battling, you've got a two-strike count, you get a pitch you can handle, you put good wood on it. Got nothing to show for it -- 0-for-1. It's an unforgiving game. But what do you do? You just keep working, come out the next day and play hard."
Baltimore made things interesting in the ninth against closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera, using a two-out single by Montanez to start a rally. Pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar nubbed an infield single, and Montanez made it all the way to third before Rivera got Brian Roberts to hit a first-pitch popup to close out his 37th save.
"We had a couple of scoring opportunities early and didn't get it done," said Trembley, summarizing the game. "Pavano had good location, changed his speeds on pitches. But Radhames was equally as good. He's shown a lot of improvement, especially in back-to-back starts against two very good teams, Minnesota and the Yankees."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.