BALTIMORE - Andy Pettitte was positive he hadn't done it before, then paused.

"Maybe Little League," he said.

He smiled broadly. "I was pretty good in Little League."

He was pretty good last night, too, and just a few shades from perfect.

Pettitte was exactly that through 62/3 innings before third baseman Jerry Hairston, who an inning earlier made a fine barehanded play to keep things perfect, booted Adam Jones' hard grounder.

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The no-hitter vanished a batter later as Nick Markakis lined an 0-and-2 pitch over third base and into leftfield for a single.

With his chance to make history gone and the Yankees leading by only two runs, Pettitte got out of the inning with a grounder to short. Though he allowed a home run by Melvin Mora to begin the eighth, he unquestionably was the star of the Yankees' 5-1 victory over the Orioles.

"He had all four pitches tonight," Joe Girardi said. "He had every one of them working."

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Pettitte (12-6) allowed one run, two hits and no walks in eight innings, his longest outing of the year. He struck out eight.

"Yeah, there's no doubt," said Pettitte, 37, when asked if he was thinking about a feat that has eluded him in his career, even in high school. "After the fifth inning, I started thinking about it a little bit. It was cool. You can't not [think about it] with the fans. It was almost like we were home, the fans were getting into it so much.

"It was neat. It was neat for me to do something like that this late in my career. There's not a whole lot that gets me excited, and I didn't get too, too excited yet because I knew I had a lot of outs left to get, but it was fun. Fortunate to be able to do that, but more important, glad we were able to get a win."

The Yankees won all six of Pettitte's August starts, and he was credited with the victory in four of them. He allowed 11 earned runs in 392/3 innings for a 2.50 ERA, giving up 29 hits and 12 walks and striking out 39.

The Yankees (83-48), who have won four straight, moved 61/2 games ahead of Boston and are 32-11 since the All-Star break.

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Nick Swisher had three hits, including a home run, and two RBIs. Robinson Cano added a two-out, two-run double in the eighth that broke open the game, but the night was about Pettitte, both on the mound and in the clubhouse afterward.

Hairston was comforted in the dugout by his teammates after the error, and Pettitte saw him with his head down in the clubhouse. "He was the best," Hairston said before laughing. "He said, 'I didn't want to throw nine innings anyway.' That's the kind of attitude he has."

There might not have been any theater in the seventh if not for Hairston, who barehanded Matt Wieters' slow grounder in the sixth and threw out the Baltimore catcher. Hairston, subbing for the resting Alex Rodriguez, wasn't thinking about that play, however.

"You don't want to make an error there," he said of Jones' grounder, which hit the heel of his glove before squirting through his legs. "I don't know how many big-leaguers there are - 750 or whatever - but nobody feels worse tonight than me. Pettitte was throwing great. It's just unfortunate. I wish I would have had that one back.''

The Yankees got their first hit against Jeremy Guthrie (9-13) in the third as Swisher led off with his 22nd home run, 19 of which have come on the road. Consecutive doubles in the fifth by Cano and Swisher made it 2-0, and the Yankees scored three in the eighth to make it 5-0. Cano's grounder over first base and into the rightfield corner drove in the final two runs.

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Brian Bruney started the ninth, but after Roberts walked and Jones added a one-out single, Mariano Rivera got two outs for his 37th save.

After that, all the thoughts were about Pettitte. "I was getting pretty excited about it," Girardi said. "When you get as far as he did, you get pretty excited; you start counting the outs. Unfortunately, it didn't happen."

He added, "He's not done pitching, so he's still going to have more opportunities. But I would have loved to have seen it."

Said Rivera: "It would have been nice. It couldn't have happened to a better person."

Pettitte used the word "enjoyed" several times. "I was throwing everything for strikes and putting it right where I wanted to, so I'm like, hey, maybe it could happen," he said. "But really, in the back of my mind, I've never done it. I've joked around saying I'm throwing pies in there at this stage of my career, I'm just trying to locate them. But I was putting it in good spots tonight and was able to move the ball around, but like I said, I was just glad I was able to give us a good start."

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Better than good.