Yankees 12, Orioles 9

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BALTIMORE (AP)—When he signed as a free agent in December, Gary Sheffield never intended to be the dominant force in the New York Yankees’ lineup.

He merely wanted to lend a hand, a modest goal that nevertheless proved to be elusive for the seven-time All-Star over the first two months of the season.

All that changed Wednesday night,

Sheffield went 4-for-5 with a homer and six RBIs, and the Yankees used a five-run seventh inning to hand the Baltimore Orioles their sixth straight loss, 12-9.

“Today it was a combination. Everybody contributed, and that’s what this team is all about,” Sheffield said. “This team is capable of great things, and today we proved that. These guys came back.”

In a wild game that featured 30 hits, five home runs and a 65-minute rain delay, the Yankees blew a 7-3 lead by allowing six runs in the sixth, then rallied against the Baltimore bullpen in the seventh.

Hideki Matsui started the uprising with a home run off Buddy Groom, and after Enrique Wilson tied it with an RBI single off B.J. Ryan (1-2), pinch-hitter Bernie Williams singled in a run and Derek Jeter doubled. Sheffield then hit a two-run single to make it 12-9.

Sheffield, who came in mired in a 3-for-17 slump, also drew a walk in his most productive outing with the Yankees. The six RBIs were one short of his career high, and he lifted his batting average 16 points to .281.

“I don’t care how many times he’s made an out, I still visualize this happening for him,” New York manager Joe Torre said. “It just felt very good to see it.”

It was also a relief for Sheffield, who is working on a run of six straight seasons in which he’s batted over .300.

“I’m starting to feel comfortable, and once you start getting some hits, good things start happening and you gain more confidence,” he said.

Tony Clark also homered, and Jeter and Kenny Lofton had three hits apiece for the Yankees, who moved a season-high nine games over .500 (27-18).

B.J. Surhoff and Melvin Mora homered for the Orioles, who fell two games under .500 (20-22) for the first time under rookie manager Lee Mazzilli.

Bidding to win his fifth consecutive start, New York’s Mike Mussina was lifted in the sixth after issuing a walk and a one-out single. Surhoff hit his first homer of the season on the second pitch from Paul Quantrill, and Jerry Hairston, Mora and Miguel Tejada added RBI singles.

But the lead didn’t last.

“Anytime you score five or six runs, the next inning it’s really important that you shut the team down,” Mazzilli said. “We just didn’t do it.”

Groom came in with a 2.19 ERA and Ryan was at 1.57, but neither left-hander was effective against the Yankees in the pivotal seventh inning.

“That was probably his worst outing,” Mazzilli said of Ryan. “The pitching just didn’t hold up tonight.”

Tanyon Sturtze (1-0) allowed two hits before retiring the final batter in the sixth, and Mariano Rivera worked the ninth for his 16th save.

Mora put the Orioles up 1-0 in the first inning with his team-high ninth homer, the first allowed by Mussina since April 27.

Baltimore added two runs in the second when Larry Bigbie hit an RBI groundout and Hairston followed with a sacrifice fly.

Orioles center fielder Luis Matos preserved the margin by making an excellent running catch of a drive by Sheffield with two on and two outs in the third, but the Yankees used two walks and a run-scoring groundout by Clark to close to 3-1 in the fourth.

New York took a 5-3 lead in the fifth. After Lofton doubled and scored on a single by Jeter, the game was halted by rain. Alex Rodriguez then reached on an infield hit and Sheffield hit a 1-0 pitch from Rodrigo Lopez deep into the left-field seats for his fourth homer.

Lopez, who allowed five runs in five innings, has a 10.24 ERA in two starts since joining the Orioles’ rotation. He was 3-1 with a 0.33 ERA as a reliever.

Clark homered on the first pitch thrown by Darwin Cubillan in the sixth, and


Rodriguez has reached safely in 34 straight games, three short of his personal high. … Baltimore RF Jay Gibbons sat out the game with back spasms. … Rafael Palmeiro made two outs in the sixth.

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