BALTIMORE – An instant after he earned his first victory as manager of the New York Yankees, Stump Merrill rushed to shake hands with an old friend – Dave Righetti.
How appropriate that Righetti was the one to preserve the Yankees’ 5-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, because he and Merrill worked together in Double-A ball at West Haven in the late 1970s.
“He’s the perfect guy to close it out for me,” Merrill said. “He started with me when I started my career … When I brought him in today, that’s what went through my mind, that he would get the save of my first win.”
Righetti gave up one hit in the ninth inning to earn his 11th save and help the Yankees end an eight-game losing streak. He also appreciated the irony of the situation.
“I’ve known him for a long time and he’s earned his way up here,” Righetti said. “A lot of people are making fun of us because the Yankees aren’t doing well and they make a change and bring in a guy by the name of Stump. But he’s earned the job and deserves to be here.”
After Merrill took over for Bucky Dent on Wednesday, New York had lost twice to Boston and twice to the Orioles. To say Merrill enjoyed the victory is a vast understatement.
“Now we can relax and play some baseball,” Merrill said. “Every time I turned around someone was asking me when the streak was going to end. Well, it’s behind us.”
Merrill isn’t the only person who will always remember the day. Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. played in his 1,307th straight contest, putting him in a tie for second with Everett Scott behind Lou Gehrig (2,130 games) on baseball’s all-time list of consecutive games played.
“I didn’t set out to play in this many,” Ripken said. “My main goal was to just go out and play every day when I got to the big leagues.
“The most you can play is 162 and then you get four months off like everybody else,” Ripken added. “It’s a streak of conseuctive years of playing every game, not a streak of 1,300 games.”
There was a bad side to it, though: Ripken flied out to left for the final out.
The Orioles, who had been at .500 for the first time since April 24, had their four-game winning streak snapped. Baltimore entered the game having won seven of eight and 11 of 15.
Jesse Barfield drove in three runs and Steve Sax had three hits to lift the Yankees to their second win in 15 games. New York had lost 11 straight on the road and all six on the current trip.
Jimmy Jones (1-0), promoted from the minors Saturday, scattered three hits in five innings in his first major-league appearance of the season.
The Yankees, who gave up six runs in the first inning of Saturday night’s 10-1 loss, again seemed in trouble from the start. They gave up one hit, two walks, three stolen bases and made an error in the first inning, but Baltimore scored only one as Steve Finley, who singled home the run, was later thrown out at the plate by rookie third baseman Jim Leyritz.
New York took charge against Jay Tibbs (2-7) with a four-run third inning. With one out, Leyritz doubled off the glove of Finley in center and Roberto Kelly singled. After Steve Sax drove in Leyritz with an infield single, Don Mattingly walked and Mel Hall had an RBI grounder.
Barfield followed with a double into the left-field corner. Phil Bradley played the ball off the wall and hit Ripken with the cutoff throw, but the relay was an instant too late to nab Hall at the plate.
The Yankees made it 5-1 in the fifth when Sax doubled and scored on a groundout by Barfield.
New York made two errors and allowed a double and a walk in the sixth inning but gave up just one run.
Joe Orsulak led off with a double and Randy Milligan reached when Leyritz botched his grounder to third. Craig Worthington hit into a double play, Chris Hoiles walked, and Billy Ripken scored Orsulak on a bunt that pitcher Jeff Robinson picked up and threw wildly to first.
With runners at second and third, Bradley grounded out to kill the threat.
NOTES: The Orioles entered the game with the best record in the majors since May 24…. Attendance at the three-game series was 137,056, third-largest in Memorial Stadium history…. The Yankees avoided being swept on a road trip for the first time since 1982. New York also dodged its first nine-game losing streak since that same year.