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Ninth-inning rally not enough for Yanks

Ninth-inning rally not enough for Yanks

BALTIMORE -- It wasn't Johnny Damon's night.

With runners on first and second and no outs in the top of the ninth, Damon stepped to the plate with the Yankees in the middle of a furious comeback. Trailing by six entering the frame, New York had put together a three-run rally, highlighted by a two-run homer by catcher Jorge Posada, and Damon had a chance to tie the game.

But instead, the Yanks' designated hitter bounced into a double play, his second of the night and of the entire season, and all but sealed the team's third straight defeat, a 7-5 loss at Camden Yards on Saturday.

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Damon, one of two players in the Majors who hadn't hit into a double play this year, went 0-for-4 with a walk and, along with the struggling bullpen, fell victim to the Orioles for the sixth time in eight games this season.

"It was awful," Damon said. "You don't hit into a double play all year and then you hit into two, with one at the worst time possible. We had the tying run up to the plate two times in the ninth inning. [Baltimore reliever] Jamie Walker kept throwing his stuff, and we kept chasing it. He did his job. I didn't do mine."

Damon wasn't the only Yankee who didn't get the job done in the loss. Roger Clemens exited in the seventh with the Yankees behind, 3-1, but the bullpen again looked shaky in the game's final stages. Relievers Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino and Brian Bruney combined to allow three runs on four hits and let the game slip out of reach.

Clemens got off to a rocky start, surrendering a two-run double to shortstop Miguel Tejada in the first inning and throwing 31 pitches in that opening frame. The veteran right-hander battled back to hold the Orioles to two more runs and ended up allowing four runs on eight hits in his fifth loss of the season.

"We couldn't get the job done out of the 'pen tonight," manager Joe Torre said. "Roger pitched his tail off. He pitched great. Roger's a special animal. He's just so determined at what he does."

After Clemens' exit, New York's bullpen allowed seven Baltimore hitters to reach base, and the four who crossed that plate with relievers on the mound made the difference.

"I think we had a chance to win," Clemens said. "It was fun for them, and it wasn't a lot of fun for us. We made somewhat of a game of it late."

But the Yankees (55-49) had put themselves into a hole before their pitchers surrendered the late-inning damage. Baltimore's starter, young lefty Brian Burres, held the New York offense to one run, left fielder Hideki Matsui's 19th home run of the season, and only four hits through his six innings of work.

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez remains on 499 career home runs after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, two against Burres. Before the four-run ninth, Matsui's home run made him the only Yankee to reach third base, and Torre said that Rodriguez, as well as several other hitters, looked overanxious.

After scoring 63 runs in five games from July 21-25 and notching at least 13 hits in each of those games, the team scored just three runs in the 26 innings leading up to their ninth-inning rally.

"It hurts, because we're in a little bit of a funk offensively right now," Damon said. "We had everything going on, and that last night in Kansas City [when the Yankees were shut out, 7-0] just put a halt to it."

But Torre, who said before the game that he believed the team could fill in any holes in its pitching staff from within the organization, put much of the blame for the loss on the pitchers' proverbial shoulders.

"Runs are at a premium," he said. "For a few days there, it looked like we had no trouble scoring runs, and it really didn't put that much of an emphasis on the pitching. But pitching is the only way you can control the game. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it done."

The Yankees hadn't lost three straight games in a month, and the last time they fell victim to such a streak was also in Baltimore.

Torre stressed the importance of Sunday's series finale, which New York must win to avoid being swept for the first time since June 21. At that time they had a .500 record.

"We need to win," Torre said. "With the off-day on Monday, we certainly don't want to end the trip on a downer. We just need to go out there and play the game we're used to playing."

Geremy Bass is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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