- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

BALTIMORE — It’s far too early in the season to consider Brian Roberts to be a slugger, and it would be premature to dismiss the New York Yankees as a force in the American League East.

At this point, however, Roberts is hitting home runs like never before. And, even more surprisingly, the Yankees are in last place.

Roberts’ three-run homer off Tom Gordon capped a five-run seventh inning, and the Baltimore Orioles rallied to beat the slumping Yankees 7-6 yesterday at Camden Yards.

Roberts went 2-for-4 with two walks to raise his batting average to .444. The 5-foot-9 second baseman already has five home runs (in 11 games), matching his career high and eclipsing the four he hit last season in 159 games.

“It’s something that won’t last, I’m sure, but crazy things happen in this game every year, especially when you play 162 games,” Roberts said. “It’s one of those fluke things, I guess.”

Sort of like the Yankees losing three straight and five of six to fall to 4-7, their worst record after 11 games since an identical start in 1991.

“We’ll get it turned around. We just have to keep working hard,” manager Joe Torre said. “Evidently we still have to do more work until we get to where we want to be.”

This loss hurt a little bit more than the six that preceded it because the Yankees thought they had it won after going up 6-2 in the seventh.

“They all stink,” Torre said, “but we felt that this game was ours, and the people we had coming into the game, we felt pretty good about it.”

The Orioles trailed 6-2 before sending eight batters to the plate in the seventh. After Javy Lopez and Jay Gibbons hit RBI singles off Tanyon Sturtze, Roberts sent a 2-1 pitch from Gordon (0-2) over the right-field scoreboard to give Baltimore its first lead.

His weight is listed at 178 pounds, but Roberts has been hitting a ton the past two weeks.

“He’s a strong little kid. Don’t let the size fool you,” Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. “He picks his spots, looks for a certain pitch and just puts the bat on the ball.”

The pitch that Gordon threw was a cut fastball, and Roberts jumped on it.

“Right now he’s hot,” Gordon said. “I tried to take my chances with a cutter up and in and I missed my spot. It’s tough to get good hitters out when you miss your spot.”

Steve Kline (2-1) pitched one scoreless inning, and B.J. Ryan got four outs for his second save. Ryan struck out Hideki Matsui on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, then retired pinch-hitter John Flaherty with two on and two outs in the ninth.

Gary Sheffield homered, drove in three runs and scored twice for the Yankees, who stranded 12 runners and were outhit 13-8.

Miguel Tejada singled in a run for the Orioles, becoming the first Baltimore player to get at least one RBI in eight straight games since Rafael Palmeiro in August 1996. Sammy Sosa, Gibbons and Melvin Mora got two hits apiece.

New York went up 6-2 with a three-run seventh that featured an RBI double by Alex Rodriguez and run-scoring grounders by Matsui and Ruben Sierra. Matsui hit his grounder to Roberts, who was playing in with the bases loaded. But Roberts double-clutched before throwing home, allowing the run to score.

He redeemed himself in the bottom half, in a big way.

“That shows you something, the way he came back,” Mazzilli said.

Sheffield put New York up 2-0 in the first, driving a changeup from Rodrigo Lopez far over the wall in center field after Derek Jeter hit a leadoff single. Before connecting, Sheffield swung wildly and missed two offspeed pitches.

Baltimore got a run in the bottom half when Roberts walked, stole second and scored on a single by Tejada.

The Orioles stranded runners at the corners in the second, left the bases loaded in the third and wasted a pair of two-out singles in the fourth.

New York went up 3-1 in the fifth. Leadoff hitter Tony Womack was awarded ball four when home plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled that Lopez went to his mouth on a 3-0 count, and Jeter also drew a walk. After Rodriguez hit into a fielder’s choice, Sheffield delivered a sacrifice fly.

Mora singled in a run in the sixth to make it 3-2.

Notes — Jeter’s first-inning single snapped a 2-for-18 skid, and Rodriguez halted a 1-for-17 slide with a single in the third. … New York has trailed in 10 of its 11 games. … Baltimore is 4-1 against the Yankees after going 5-14 against New York in 2004.

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