Andy Pettitte provided a sublime performance at Camden Yards on Monday night, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning before folding to an error and a base hit, and led the Yankees to a remarkable 5-1 win over the Orioles.
The outing had Baltimore manager Dave Trembley at no loss for words.
"Pettitte pitched a tremendous, terrific, exceptional, outstanding, superb -- however you want me to say it -- ballgame," said Trembley. "I think I said it in a nutshell, probably one of the year's finest. ... Tremendous game by Andy Pettitte, who obviously has a knack against the Orioles and pitching here at Camden Yards."
Baltimore saw its first 20 hitters retired without incident, and nobody even drew a three-ball count until the seventh inning. Adam Jones managed to reach base on an error by third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. with two outs in the seventh, and moments later, Nick Markakis singled up the left-field line to break up the no-hitter.
With that, Pettitte's bid for history was over, but his quest for the win was intact. The southpaw earned his 26th career victory against the Orioles, which is tied for the second-highest total of any pitcher in the past 55 years. Fellow Yankees Whitey Ford (30) and Catfish Hunter (26) are the only arms to match him over that time.
And in this case, the stadium and the opponent didn't seem to matter much. Pettitte (12-6) had everything working early in the game, and he worked through Baltimore's batting order with ease. The Yankees (83-48) didn't even need to make any brilliant defensive plays behind him, heightening the late-inning drama.
"There was no doubt, after the fifth inning, I started thinking about it," said Pettitte. "It almost seemed like we were at home with the way these fans were getting into it so much. That was neat for me to be able to do something like that so late in my career. There's not a whole lot that gets me excited, and I didn't really get too excited yet. I had a lot of outs left to get. ... I'm glad I was able to do that, and more important, I was glad we were able to get a win."
The seventh inning began with the Yankees holding a two-run lead, and Pettitte coaxed a warning-track fly ball from Brian Roberts and another flyout from Cesar Izturis. That brought Jones to the plate, and the center fielder hit a two-hop grounder to Hairston that went through the former Oriole's legs for a no-doubt error.
"I'm sure everybody wants to be the one that breaks it up," said Jones. "[Pettitte] had everything working. A back-door curveball, back-door cutter. He could cut it in. He was just in sync. I guess it would've continued if Hairston didn't make that error. I'm pretty sure he's going to be all over the paper -- in the front of it -- tomorrow."
That play reduced some of the tension, but the Orioles (54-78) still had to deal with the prospect of a no-hitter. Markakis took care of that with a single rifled up the left-field line, a hit that suddenly put the tying runner on base. Pettitte rebounded, though, and retired Nolan Reimold on a harmless grounder to shortstop.
"That late in the game, it's definitely going through everybody's minds," said Markakis. "We caught a break there with Jonesey getting on. He was putting the ball where he wanted it. At 0-2, I was just looking to put the ball in play. I got a pitch fairly up and away and just put a good swing on it. Any time you can do that, it can find a hole."
The Yankees took the lead on Nick Swisher's solo home run to right field in the third inning. Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie got a key double play in the fourth, but Swisher doubled up the first-base line to pound home another run in the fourth. New York scored three more times in the eighth to salt away the game.
Melvin Mora broke up the shutout with a home run in the eighth inning, and the Orioles put two runners on base against Brian Bruney in the eighth to make it a save situation. New York then went to closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera, who earned his 37th save on a flyout by Markakis and a strikeout of Reimold.
In the aftermath, though, everybody was talking about the near miss for history. Markakis, who made the last out in the no-hitter thrown against the Orioles by Clay Buchholz in 2007, was relieved to avoid it this time. He said he had never seen Pettitte throw better and that he had no explanation for the lefty's dominance of Baltimore.
"Any time you're late in the game and the pitcher is throwing as well as he's throwing," Markakis said, "and you're able to squeeze a hit out there, it's definitely good, and it's definitely relieving for myself and for the team. Nobody wants to go out there and get no-hit. You've got to tip your hat to him. He threw well tonight."
"Did I think about it? I think everybody thought about it," added Trembley of the prospect of a perfect game. "I mean, gosh darn, who didn't think about it? Who's going to tell a wives' tale there and say they didn't think about it when it got to the sixth and seventh? Come on. Facts are facts. The guy was dealing. ... But I felt confident we were going to get a hit. I felt confident once we got some guys on base, we were going to get one scoring opportunity and [Nolan] Reimold was going to hit one out. We kept it close. That's how I felt, that's how we felt as a team. I wish we wouldn't have given up the three [runs] in the eighth. I wish I had some different options. I didn't."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.