If Joe Girardi was angry at Baltimore Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson for allegedly sneaking a look at the signs being flashed by Yankees catcher Austin Romine, the New York manager seemed more bothered by it than his backstop.
"That's baseball," Romine said matter-of-factly. "Everybody wants to steal signs. And we've got to do our best to hide them. I even asked some guys if they could see my signs, and no one said no, so you hear a lot going on and speculation on what they were saying. ... I knew I was doing my job and not letting them see my signs."
Girardi apparently took umbrage at the notion that Dickerson might be engaging in a little gamesmanship in the Orioles' 4-2 victory Monday night in the opener of a four-game series between teams desperately trying to stay in postseason contention.
At least that's what Dickerson said, adding that he wasn't.
Girardi wouldn't fan the flames of any burgeoning controversy, not with 18 games left on the schedule and two teams between the Yankees and the second wild card.
"The one thing that I've done, the whole time that I'm here, and everywhere I've been, is I'm going to protect our players at all lengths," Girardi said when asked about the unusual confrontation between the managers after the first inning that emptied both dugouts. "That's what I'm going to do, and there was something that I saw and I'm just going to leave it at that."
Chris Tillman took a three-hitter into the eighth inning for the Orioles.
"They are all big this time of year, and I take the approach every game I'm pitching," said Tillman (16-5), who became the Orioles' first 16-game winner since Mike Mussina won 18 in 1999. "You only get to go out there once every fifth day, so for me they are all big."
With the victory, the Orioles remained tied with Cleveland and moved within 1 1-2 games of idle Tampa Bay for the second AL wild card. The Yankees fell three games behind Tampa Bay.
Tillman allowed two runs and four hits in seven-plus innings. He walked none and struck out nine, matching his career high.
"I was able to get in sync and kind of felt my way through the first couple innings," Tillman said. "I found it later in the game and I think (catcher Matt Wieters) gets a lot of the credit for that. He made some calls deep in the counts. And it was fun."
But his performance almost became an afterthought after the skirmish between Showalter and Girardi.
Following the game, Showalter patiently answered inquiries about the clash before asking reporters to change their line of questioning.
"Guys, we had a great pitched game tonight," he said. "I understand you've got to ask the questions and everything. I'd rather have the focus be on Chris Tillman, some of the things we did on the field. ... I know how drama usually plays this time of the year. I'm just glad we're playing games that mean this much to everybody, including our fans."
Both dugouts emptied briefly after the first inning, when Showalter angrily exchanged words with Girardi after the Yankees manager yelled at Dickerson, accusing him of stealing signs. Showalter had to be restrained by home plate umpire Ed Hickox as he charged onto the field.
Dickerson, who said he had never been berated like that by an opposing manager, said he heard Girardi chirping from the dugout from the start of bottom of the first. Girardi had moved from the end of the bench close to home plate to the end of the dugout nearest third base by the time the inning had ended.
"Immediately, like right when I got to third base," Dickerson said. "I didn't hear him at first. I heard something and as I looked at the dugout, he was right there yelling at me from the far end. And I was running off the field, something else was said. And after that it was over."
But not before a red-faced Showalter bolted from the first-base dugout, gesturing angrily and shouting at Girardi before being held at bay by Hickox. Girardi followed from the third-base dugout in calmer fashion as players from both teams spilled onto the field.
"It strikes a chord in me and I stand accused," Showalter said.
Once order was restored — and both benches were issued a warning about any retaliatory measures — television cameras showed Showalter shaking his head and glaring at Girardi from the Orioles dugout.
"Two competitive good teams and we're fighting for the same thing, so there's a small margin for error. ... But Bobby's not giving pitches," Showalter said.
Alex Rodriguez and Lyle Overbay hit home runs for the Yankees. Rodriguez's first-inning blast to right-center was the 652nd of his career, leaving him eight short of tying Willie Mays for fourth place all-time.
CC Sabathia (13-12), who came into the game with an 18-5 career record against the Orioles, yielded four runs — three earned — and seven hits over 7 1-3 innings. He walked two and struck out six.
Tommy Hunter relieved Tillman and struck out the side in the eighth. Jim Johnson got the last three outs for his AL-leading 43rd save.
The Orioles tied it 1-1 in the bottom of the first when Nick Markakis led off with a ground-rule double to center, went to third on Manny Machado's sacrifice and scored on Adam Jones' sacrifice fly.
Baltimore went ahead in the fifth when J.J. Hardy doubled into the left-field corner and advanced to third by beating the relay from first base on Michael Morse's third-to-first groundout. Wieters' sacrifice fly scored Hardy.
Alexi Casilla followed with a single past Rodriguez at third, stole second and came home on Markakis' single.
In the seventh, the Orioles added an insurance run when Machado's 49th double, a two-out poke off the scoreboard in right, scored Wieters from third.
Overbay's homer leading off the eighth chased Tillman.
NOTES: Yankees SS Derek Jeter, sidelined with a sore left ankle, took Monday off from baseball activities and will be re-evaluated Tuesday, said Girardi. ... Rodriguez batted second, his first time in that position in the batting order since Aug. 26, 2006. ... The Yankees reinstated OF Zoilo Almonte (sprained left ankle) from the 15-day DL. He missed 45 games.