BALTIMORE - Alex Rodriguez and Nick Markakis ignited some first-inning fireworks. Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter provided them between innings.
In a highly unusual sight, the managers nearly touched off a brawl between AL East clubs in the thick of the wild-card chase, engaging in an incident in which the benches began to empty during the Orioles' 4-2 win Monday night at Camden Yards.
"Weird,'' Yankees catcher Austin Romine offered.
Girardi's belief that Orioles third-base coach Bobby Dickerson was stealing signs apparently sparked it, though he didn't specify.
"The one thing that I've done the whole time I've been here, and everywhere I've been, is I'm going to protect our players, always,'' Girardi said. "There was something that I saw and I'm just going to leave it at that.''
Television cameras showed Girardi yelling at Dickerson, which quickly got Showalter upset. Cameras showed him expressing his displeasure with expletives, then saying, "That's not right, Joe!'' several times.
"He was yelling at the third-base coach, somebody's wearing black and orange, I'm not going to let that happen,'' said Showalter, who added he believed the issue was one of sign-stealing, but he denied it.
Sign stealing, of course, has been a part of the sport for, well, forever. "That's baseball,'' Romine said. "Everybody wants to steal signs and we have to do our best to hide them.''
Girardi and Showalter, who afterward called Girardi "a good man,'' jawed for a few more moments, but nothing more came of it.
"We got two good teams, and we're competing for something very special with 19 or 20 games left,'' Showalter said. "Nobody's going to apologize here for caring about giving both our teams the best chance to win.''
The teams returned their attention to the field, not surprising in what's at stake in the series, which did not start well for the Yankees (76-68). They are three games behind the Rays for the second wild card and 1½ behind the Orioles (77-66) and Indians (77-66).
The Yankees would be in a far better place if CC Sabathia had been better this season but the lefty, though better, wasn't good enough. Sabathia (13-12, 4.82 ERA) allowed four runs (three earned) and seven hits in 71/3 innings. The 12 losses are a career high for the 13-year veteran.
"I felt pretty good,'' Sabathia said. "Just left some fastballs up. Made some pitches when I needed to, but not enough.''
Rodriguez, starting a game hitting in the two-hole for the first time since 2006, blasted his fifth homer in the first. The opposite-field shot off Chris Tillman (two runs, four hits, nine strikeouts in seven innings) made it 1-0.
The Orioles struck back in the bottom of the inning as Markakis, who had three hits and an RBI, led off with a long double to right-center and scored on Adam Jones' sacrifice fly to center, tying it at 1.
It stayed that way until the fifth, when J.J. Hardy led off with a double and went to third on Michael Morse's groundout. Matt Wieters' sacrifice fly to center brought in Hardy to make it 2-1.
Alex Casilla started another rally with a two-out single, then stole second. Markakis brought the No. 9 hitter in with a sharp single to center, making it 3-1.
"Giving up that run after getting the two outs was tough,'' Sabathia said. "Definitely disappointing.''
Machado's league-best 49th double in the seventh drove in Wieters to make it 4-1.
Lyle Overbay's 14th homer to lead off the eighth cut the deficit to 4-2, but Jim Johnson, who has had his share of struggles over the last two years with the Bombers, pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save. There was some drama as, with a runner on, Curtis Granderson flew out to the track in center to end it.
"You can't count this team out,'' Romine said of the Yankees' predicament. "We have a lot of good hitters in this lineup and some veterans on this team. You can't count us out.''
With David Lennon