BALTIMORE -- There are plenty of things to like about this spirited Orioles team, but their defense isn't one of them.
Instead, Baltimore's fielding woes are becoming an increasing concern -- along with the recent turn of short starts by its rotation -- as the club tries to keep ahold of its terrific start to the season. The Orioles -- who entered Monday's game in sole possession of first place in the American League East -- were done in by a sixth inning as sloppy as the field conditions, issuing three walks and committing a costly two-run error that allowed the Yankees to tie the game without needing a hit. The ripple effect, which effectively negated all momentum gained from a three-run fifth, helped hand the O's an 8-5 series-opening loss on a rainy evening at Camden Yards.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who mentioned over the weekend that defense was one of the most pressing matters his club still needed to improve upon, continued to watch the fielding woes mount. First baseman Chris Davis' error, his second misplayed ball of the evening, extended the Orioles' AL lead in errors to 35 and put them at second most in the Majors behind only the San Francisco Giants.
"He's probably thinking in his head whether he's going to the plate or he had a chance to turn two," Showalter said of Davis, who took a step backward and tried in vain to make a stab at a ball that instead rolled into right field while two runs scored. "It was a play that we hope to make in the future to stay in those games and be more competitive."
The team's overall defensive play -- a point of emphasis over the last few weeks -- isn't responding, and Davis is hardly the only culprit. Of the Orioles' 35 errors, 18 have come from the corner-infield spots, with five players contributing. Baltimore has played 21 games with at least one error this season, and 10 AL clubs entered Monday with fewer than 21 errors.
Davis' error came at an inopportune time, after starter Jason Hammel exited with the bases loaded and no outs, having walked a pair of Yankees upon surrendering a leadoff double. With reliever Luis Ayala asked to protect a 5-3 lead, Raul Ibanez hit a sharp grounder to Davis for a potential double play that turned into a pivotal game-tying play.
"I mean, it was hit hard," Davis said. "But it's still a play that's got to be made. Whether it took a bad hop, good hop, you're on the balls of your feet. The biggest thing is I turned my body trying to set up for the throw before I had the ball and it ate me up."
"There are some things you can't control -- sometimes errors, sometimes walks," said Ayala, who followed up Davis' error with a free pass to No. 9 batter Russell Martin to re-load the bases. "You still have to throw quality pitches; sometimes the umpires don't call them. Errors, umpires, home runs -- everything is a part of the game. Some things you can't control."
Ayala, who managed to get out of the sixth without any further damage, put the O's behind for good when Mark Teixeira hit a two-run homer in the seventh. The O's bullpen, a strength so far this season, allowed the Yankees to score three runs in the last three innings, with lefty Dana Eveland allowing a run in the ninth.
"You're going to be the goat a lot more than you're going to be the hero," said Teixeira, who is from Severna Park, Md. "But tonight, especially playing at home, I love playing in this ballpark against a first-place team. It's a big win."
And one the Orioles felt they should have had. Hammel, whose last start was pushed back due to right knee soreness, breezed through the first three innings before allowing a two-run double to Nick Swisher with one out in the fourth. The right-hander surrendered a solo homer to Curtis Granderson in the fifth and exited after loading the bases in the sixth, walking away from his worst start this season.
"Honestly, we should have won the ballgame," said Hammel, who chided himself for not being able to go deeper in the game. "Early in the game, I was very much in command, doing what I wanted to do, [sticking to] my game plan. And then toward the end there, maybe a little fatigue [set in], with not having to do too much with my legs the last seven or eight days. I started getting out of my game plan, started nibbling and getting behind hitters, and I let them back in the game."
Hammel, who said afterward that his knee felt fine, is the latest Orioles starter to fall short, as the team has had just two quality starts in eight games on its current homestand. Yankees starter Ivan Nova didn't last much longer, exiting with a right ankle bruise and sprain after fielding Wilson Betemit's soft comebacker to open the sixth. Nick Markakis hit a hard single off Nova's ankle in the first inning, and the righty limped off the mound after Betemit's grounder.
Orioles rookie Xavier Avery and shortstop J.J. Hardy combined for most of the damage off Nova, going 4-for-10 with two doubles, a triple, a home run and four RBIs. Avery, making just his second career start, picked up his first career hit with a leadoff double in the first inning.
"I don't think I'll ever forget it," said Avery, who received congratulations from Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as well as Robinson Cano at second base. "My first hit, against the Yankees. I don't think I'll ever forget it. I always will remember."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.