Not having won a home series against the New York Yankees in more than two years, the Orioles seemingly had the perfect opportunity Monday night.
The Yankees were without shortstop Derek Jeter, who missed his second consecutive game with a knee bruise, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was sent back to New York for more tests on an injured thumb.
On the mound for the Orioles was Alfredo Simon, coming off perhaps the best start of his big league career, and the club was one day removed from a season-high six-game winning streak.
But when it comes to Orioles-Yankees, subtle breaks and a dash of momentum don't overcome a decade-plus of documented inferiority.
Led by another home run by Nick Swisher and a gem thrown by rejuvenated right-hander Freddy Garcia, the Yankees beat the Orioles, 3-2, before an announced 18,223.
"Nobody's happy with a split. [The Orioles] were wanting to win all four, and they competed well to do it," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But that's a good baseball team, playing a real meaningful game. And you can see how close it is."
The Yankees (80-52) narrowly avoided their first series loss in Camden Yards since April 2009. It would have been the Orioles' first four-game series win versus the Bronx Bombers since 1997. Instead, the Orioles (53-79) lost to them for the 11th time in 14 tries this year.
"We played really solid baseball all four games. We caught the ball well behind guys, we swung the bats pretty decent and we pitched pretty well," said first baseman Mark Reynolds, who struck out three times but had one of three Orioles hits, a solo homer in the fifth. "So they got, seems like, the extra hit that we didn't get the last two games, and they came out on top."
Simon (4-7) did his part by limiting the Yankees to just three runs on a double by Mark Teixeira in the first and a two-run homer by Swisher in the fourth. Swisher's blast, which landed on the flag court in right, was his 21st this season and his sixth homer in his past seven games.
Otherwise, Simon was excellent for the second consecutive start -- he allowed just one run in an eight-inning victory at Minnesota last Tuesday. In both games, he threw a career-best 114 pitches, and on Monday, he hit 94 mph with his final offering.
"He was really good," said Showalter, who believes Simon was better Monday than he was in dominating a depleted Twins lineup. "I loved the way he was engaged the whole night, loved the way he came back after the two-run homer. They pitched just a tad better than we did."
Rescued from baseball's scrap heap by the Yankees, Garcia has dominated the Orioles in three starts this season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18 innings. On Monday, Garcia (11-7) kept the Orioles completely off balance, giving up just two hits in six innings.
"He throws pitches in counts where you are not looking for them," said Reynolds, whose homer was his 31st of the season and the club's first in 23 innings. "[Garcia] stays away. You think he's going to give you a pitch to hit. He never really does. He mixes it up."
After scoring 12 runs against the Yankees on Friday, the Orioles managed just seven runs in the final three games of the series. They have lost their past six one-run games at home.
This one closed to within one in the eighth when J.J. Hardy smashed his career-high-tying 26th homer of the season, a 372-foot solo shot against Yankees reliever David Robertson. It was the first run Robertson had allowed on the road this season and first homer he has served up in 682/3 innings pitched.
Robertson then walked Nick Markakis, who stole second to give the Orioles a runner in scoring position for the first time since the first inning. But Robertson struck out Adam Jones to end the eighth. Mariano Rivera picked up his 34th save with a scoreless ninth.
"Simon went out there and battled. He threw great, kept us right there in the ballgame. But unfortunately, so did Freddy Garcia and their bullpen guys," Hardy said. "It was a good game, but we came out with a loss."
The Orioles received two strong innings of relief from Michael Gonzalez, who saw his streak of seven consecutive strikeouts broken by the first batter he faced, Brett Gardner, who flied to left in the eighth. Gonzalez didn't allow a run in two innings, giving him 13 straight scoreless appearances.
Simon ended up as the hard-luck loser, but if he continues to pitch this way, he is creating a spot for himself in the 2012 rotation.
"He's doing some things tonight and last time out and, at times, to help his cause, but we'll see when the smoke clears what our options are," Showalter said. "He's presenting himself as one."
That's the goal of Simon, who was the team's closer for part of last season but was practically discounted for this season after he spent roughly two months in a Dominican Republic prison as the prime suspect in the fatal shooting of his cousin on Jan. 1.
"I know a lot of things happened before, and I just try to do my best for my family, for my people and just do the best I can this year and just work for next year," said Simon, who has never been charged in the case. "And try to do the best every time I go out."
Orioles players say they are gaining confidence when Simon takes the mound.
"He's probably had a lot on his mind all year with what he went through in the offseason," Reynolds said. "And he's come in and got his work done in the minor leagues and came up and has been a real effective starter for us. He's another one of those guys who goes out there and the team feels like he's going to keep us in it."
Simon did Monday, but the Orioles couldn't sneak past the Yankees.
"It's close, but I don't think anybody's satisfied in there, and neither am I," Showalter said. "But you realize that you get good starting pitching, it's not nearly the chasm that some people perceive it as."
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