In a contest in which every starting player on both teams rapped at least one hit, Mariano Rivera was called in after the Yankees once led by seven runs and a Baltimore infielder suffered a grisly dislocated elbow, textbook baseball went out the window.
"We escaped," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We scored enough runs to win. I guess you have to throw an ugly one in here and there."
After all, as winning pitcher Aaron Small said, "They don't have to be pretty, as long as we get 'em done."
With Yankee pinstripes spinning around the bases, the night seemed to revolve around Sheffield, who has been hobbled by a strained left thigh and relegated to designated hitter status for weeks.
It was Sheffield who got the Yankees going in the first inning, ripping his first extra-base hit since Aug. 27 to drive home Derek Jeter with the game's first run. Sheffield completed his race to second base with a thumping slide, and suddenly Sheffield -- who had said he felt more agile in outfield drills this week -- was beginning to look like the pre-injury superstar he was.
Turns out, he was feeling better, too. After Jorge Posada drilled an outside pitch from Orioles rookie John Maine into the right-field seats for a three-run blast, giving the Yankees a four-run advantage, Sheffield set back to work in the second.
It mattered not that Small didn't have his sharpest stuff for Baltimore on this night; the pitcher who had carried the Yankees on his back to the tune of an 8-0 record was about to get win No. 9 gift-wrapped for him.
As Small cooled off in the dugout, the heat was on for Maine, who faced three batters and retired none in the second inning. On came veteran James Baldwin, who worked his way down the Yankee order to Sheffield, making the mistake of throwing the bat-waggling slugger a fat 1-2 changeup.
With near-forgotten power surging to his lower body, Sheffield whipped the bat around and hooked the pitch -- so much so that he initially suspected the ball would sail well foul, like a golfer ripping a shot into the trees -- inside the left-field foul pole for the 10th grand slam of his career and the Yankees' sixth of the season.
"I've been patient, getting my work in," Sheffield said. "When you don't see results, you get a little frustrated. But I know I'm going to come through."
"Even if he's not 100 percent," Torre said, "he's still intimidating. You don't want to pitch to him."
If Sheffield's blast was the highlight of the marathon second inning, then a bunt play involving Bubba Crosby and the Orioles' Brian Roberts was the low-light.
Four batters before Sheffield torched Baldwin's offering, Crosby had touched down a bunt to the left side of the infield. It was meant to move Bernie Williams over to third base. First baseman B.J. Surhoff pounced on the ball and fired to first base, where Roberts was covering. The throw sailed into the line, and Crosby ran flush into Roberts' outstretched glove arm, bending the arm back and dislocating his left elbow.
"We've just gotta win. We do that, everything takes care of itself."
-- Gary Sheffield
As Roberts jumped up and down, his body losing control to the waves of pain rushing through, Crosby could only bite his lip. The two players are good friends, and Crosby said they'd even made plans to go out for lunch one day in Baltimore next week.
"It's just a freak thing," Crosby said. "It couldn't happen to a worse guy. He's such a great guy and a great ballplayer. He had such a solid year; you hate to see him finish it like this."
When Williams singled home New York's 10th run in the fifth inning, Small's victory appeared to be all but a formality.
It wasn't quite that easy, as Jay Gibbons stroked Scott Proctor for a two-run homer in the seventh and Bernie Castro touched Tom Gordon for a run in the eighth. Torre's blueprint for the evening was to avoid pitching Rivera at all costs, but when Alan Embree gave up two hits and a run in the ninth, summoning the Sandman became inevitable.
"We didn't want to go to Mo," Torre said. "We had to bite the bullet and do it."
Rivera did his job, but like everything else Tuesday, it didn't go exactly according to plan. Luis Matos touched the closer for a run before a Chris Gomez fly ball finally plopped into Crosby's glove in right field, triggering Liza Minnelli and "New York, New York."
The Yankees' two eighth-inning runs -- A-Rod's 45th homer and a Sheffield single -- weren't supposed to matter, but in the end, they did.
To escape from this one with a 'W,' well, that was going to be good enough.
"We've just gotta win," Sheffield said. "We do that, everything takes care of itself."