Yankees @ Orioles Series Preview

The New York Yankees return to familiar ground on many different fronts Tuesday as they face the Orioles in Baltimore for three games. The series against their AL East rivals is the first against a league opponent in almost three weeks. In between a 4-3 loss to the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 5 and Tuesday's series opener, the Yankees won nine of 15 interleague games, including four of six in a just-concluded road trip to Colorado and San Diego.

Also familiar to the Yankees is their place in the standings. Two weekend wins in San Diego, coupled with Los Angeles' sweep of Boston, puts New York back in first place in the AL East for the first time since April 14. Their 47-28 mark is one-half game better than the Red Sox.

And the series also marks the return of closer Mariano Rivera, expected to be activated from the disabled list. Yankee manager Joe Torre has said he will ease Rivera back into the closer's role, using Steve Karsay at times.

The Orioles, still holding strong at 35-38 in a season where little was expected of them, was 8-7 in its 15 interleague games. Surprisingly solid starting pitching has kept Baltimore competitive, particularly rookies Rodrigo Lopez, who starts Wednesday, and Travis Driskill, who improved to 5-0 by beating the Giants on Saturday.

The Yankees have won five of the nine meetings between the two teams, with all but one of Baltimore's four wins coming by one run, and all but one of New York's wins coming by three runs or more.

MOUND MATCHUPS


The series starts with Baltimore's Sidney Ponson taking on Andy Pettitte of the Yankees. Ponson (3-4, 4.07) will start against New York for the fourth time, already having pitched 19 innings, giving up 11 runs and 18 hits – including four home runs – in a loss and two no-decisions. Ponson left his last start, June 19 against Arizona, after being hit in the right wrist by a line drive off the bat of Steve Finley, but hasn't had any trouble with the wrist.

Pettitte (1-1, 4.66) will make his sixth start of the season, and third since coming off the disabled list. Pettitte is 12-3 with a 4.07 ERA lifetime against the Orioles, including 8-1 with a 4.43 ERA at Camden Yards. In his last start, June 19 at Colorado, Pettitte had a no-decision despite giving up eight runs, five earned, on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings in the Yankees' wild 20-10 victory.

Wednesday's starters will be Rodrigo Lopez and Roger Clemens, also bouncing back from being struck by a line drive. Lopez (6-3, 2.70) has been the Orioles' biggest surprise, becoming the ace of the staff after starting the season in the bullpen and not even making a start until April 24. Lopez has lost his last two decisions despite giving up just six runs in 15 innings. His only appearance against the Yankees came in relief on opening day, when he gave up two runs on two hits and a pair of walks in one inning in mopping up Baltimore's 10-3 victory.

Clemens (8-3, 3.76) was knocked out of last Friday's start against Colorado after being hit in the right arm by a line drive from Juan Pierre in the fifth inning, but he's experienced no difficulties in getting ready for Wednesday's start. After ripping through a seven-game winning streak, Clemens has been largely ineffective in his last two starts, giving up six runs on 11 hits and four walks in 9 2/3 innings.

The series concludes Thursday with a matchup of veterans as Scott Erickson of the Orioles faces David Wells. Erickson (3-6, 4.76) has lost his last four decisions since a shutout of Kansas City on April 28, including an ugly 13-5 loss to the Yankees on June 4 in which he gave up eight runs on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. For the season, Erickson is 1-2 against the Yankees, with 14 runs -- 12 earned -- allowed in 16 innings, a 6.75 ERA.

Wells (7-5, 3.61), on the other hand, has pitched well against Baltimore this year, winning two of three starts, allowing 19 hits in 23 1/3 innings and just eight runs. Included in those numbers is a 1-0 win on April 3 in Wells' first 2002 start for the Yankees.

SERIES NOTES


A bruised right thumb is expected to restrict Jason Giambi to DH duties for at least the first two games of the series. The injury, sustained during infield practice at San Diego, knocked the Yankee slugger out of the lineup last Friday, but Giambi played the last two games of the series at first. … An 0-for-5 on Sunday ended Bernie Williams' hitting streak at 11 games. He was 17-for-44 (.396) during the streak but had just three RBI. … Three Yankees lead in All-Star voting at this point: catcher Jorge Posada by just over 6,000 votes over Pudge Rodriguez; Giambi by more than 115,000 votes at first base; and second baseman Alfonso Soriano, with a 79,000-vote lead over Seattle's Bret Boone. Among other Yankees, shortstop Derek Jeter is third behind Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, third baseman Robin Ventura is second behind Boston's Shea Hillenbrand and Williams is fifth among AL outfielders.

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