Had New York Yankees third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. been able to field Adam Jones' routine ground ball in the seventh inning Monday night, Andy Pettitte's dominating performance might well have been a historic one.
It's impossible to know whether Pettitte would have been able to retire the final six batters to complete the first perfect game - for or against them - in Orioles history. But with the way Pettitte was pitching and whom he was pitching against in the Yankees' eventual 5-1 victory, it was easy to imagine the possibilities.
"I don't know how many big leaguers there are - 750 or 725 - whatever there are. Nobody feels worse tonight than me," said Hairston, the former Oriole second baseman who started at third for the Yankees in place of a resting Alex Rodriguez. "Obviously, I make that play and we're out of the inning. You never know what could happen."
Pettitte has beaten the Orioles 26 times in his storied career, which almost got a new highlight Monday night. Just less than two years to the day when they were no-hit by Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz, then a rookie, the Orioles' first 20 batters were retired by Pettitte.
However with two outs in the seventh, Hairston watched Jones' ground ball hit off his glove and trickle into left field. Nick Markakis, whom Buchholz struck out to complete his no-hitter, then bounced Pettitte's 0-2 pitch down the left-field line for a single.
"Anytime you're late in the game and the pitcher is throwing as well as he's throwing 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," Markakis said. "Nobody wants to go out there and get no-hit. ... That late in the game, it's definitely going through everybody's minds. Both sides get a little jittery."
The hit, which came on Pettitte's 81st pitch, ended the left-hander's bid for his first career no-hitter, and the second one in Camden Yards' history. The Red Sox's Hideo Nomo threw the only no-hitter at the park April 4, 2001.
"I don't ever want to be [on] a team that gets no-hit," Jones said. "I'm glad Markakis got it. I'm glad that [Hairston] made an error so it led to Markakis getting up in the inning and him having to work from the stretch, which he hadn't done all game."
Pettitte lost his shutout bid in the eighth inning when Melvin Mora hit a solo home run. He settled for allowing one run on two hits, striking out eight and walking none. Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie also pitched well for the third straight outing, surrendering two runs over six innings. But his efforts weren't enough to prevent the Orioles' eighth straight loss to the Yankees.
"We ran into a guy who pitched one of the best games of the season," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "There's not much you can do about that. Pettitte pitched as good a game as you're going to see all year."
Pettitte, 37, improved his career record against the Orioles to 26-6 with a 3.56 ERA in 39 appearances (37 starts). He is tied with Catfish Hunter for the second most victories all time against them. Another former Yankee, Whitey Ford, heads that list with 30 wins. Pettitte (12-6) was so dominant that in retiring the first 20 Orioles he never went to a three-ball count, and he went to a two-ball count just eight times.
"I think that's the best I've seen Pettitte since I've been up here," Markakis said.
The buzz in the decisively pro-Yankees crowd of an announced 25,063 became evident after the fifth inning. At that point, Pettitte had thrown only 59 pitches, 43 for strikes. Pettite's no-hit bid survived a scare in the sixth when Matt Wieters hit a slow roller down the third-base line, but Hairston made a nice play to retire the plodding catcher. As he walked off the mound after a seven-pitch sixth inning, Pettitte got a partial standing ovation.
"After the fifth inning, I kind of started thinking about it a little bit," Pettitte said. "You can't not with the fans. It seemed like we were almost at home, the fans were getting into it so much. It was neat for me to be able to do something like that this late in my career. There's not a whole lot that gets me excited. I didn't get too, too excited because I knew I had a lot of outs left to get. But it was fun."
The cheers increased through the seventh as Pettitte retired Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis on flyouts before the next two Orioles reached. With the Yankees' lead only 2-0 and two Orioles on base, Pettitte got Nolan Reimold to ground out. Then he received another standing ovation, providing further frustration to the home team.
"We're not at the new Yankee Stadium," Jones said. "We're at Camden Yards. I expect more of our fans to be here, but I understand completely why they're not. But it [stinks] that they're not."
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