Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson returned to the starting rotation last night and pitched one of his best games of the year, but there are two sides to every baseball story.
The seven shutout innings that Johnson threw at the Detroit Tigers were nice, but since he didn't pitch a complete game and the Orioles certainly did not play one, the Tigers came from behind to score a 2-1 victory before 26,836 at Memorial Stadium.
Outfielder Steve Finley broke a scoreless tie in the seventh with his first home run at home, but the Orioles bullpen could not make that flimsy lead hold up through even one inning.
Curt Schilling took over for Johnson in the eighth and immediately gave up back-to-back singles to Milt Cuyler and Tony Phillips. Jeff Ballard came on to get a big out, but Gregg Olson surrendered a two-run double to Alan Trammell that cost Johnson his 12th victory of the year.
"We had a chance to win the ballgame, but it just didn't work
out," Johnson said. "Sometimes that happens, but most of the time the bullpen does the job. Nobody is going to go out and do it every time. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
Johnson was starting for the first time since Aug. 14, when back soreness forced him to move reluctantly to the sidelines at a time when he still had a legitimate chance at a 16 or 17-win season.
He went on the disabled list and stood by as the Orioles experimented with rookie starters Anthony Telford and Jose Mesa. Both remain in the rotation, but manager Frank Robinson moved John Mitchell into the bullpen to make room for Johnson.
It apparently was a prudent move, since Johnson had no trouble keeping the Tigers under control through the seventh inning, giving up just six hits. And these weren't the Tigers of the night before. Cecil Fielder and Trammell were back in the starting lineup, probably hoping to take advantage of the fact that Johnson -- even after a month off -- entered the game tied for the major-league lead in home runs allowed (26).
The Tigers didn't do much about that, though Cuyler took Finley to the right-field wall in the third. Johnson had runners on base in every inning he worked but the third, but he looked very much like the Dave Johnson who entered August on an 18-victory pace.
"It was just a great effort," Robinson said. "It was what I call a real big-hearted effort. He goes out there and never ceases to amaze you."
The evening also featured some unexpected entertainment. Second baseman Bill Ripken was ejected from the game by umpire Rich Garcia in the sixth inning for arguing a called third strike, which set off his father and precipitated a lengthy rhubarb. By the time it was over, Cal Ripken Sr. had also been ejected, and it took three of his fellow coaches to drag him away from the umpiring crew.
It would have taken twice that many teammates to drag Johnson off the mound if he had known what was going to happen as soon as he left the game. But Robinson did not second-guess himself for removing his starter after seven innings.
"Why would I want him to go out there for the eighth or ninth inning?" Robinson said. "He has only pitched two or three innings in a month. The guy did more than anyone could have asked."
Johnson wouldn't call it his best game of the year, but it was close. He walked only two and struck out three on the way to his first scoreless start of any length this year.
"It was a game where I was able to throw all of my pitches over the plate," he said. "I was able to do pretty much what I wanted to do. There have been some starts where I gave in to the hitters. Today, I was pretty much throwing all my pitches the way I wanted to throw them."
Still, it took some questionable baserunning by Tigers outfielder Lloyd Moseby in the fourth inning to preserve the scoreless tie. Moseby reached base on a fielder's choice and seemed destined to score on a two-out double by former Oriole Larry Sheets, but he hesitated at third, then tried to score when the throw from the outfield bounced away from Cal Ripken. He had a better chance of scoring from first on the double.
Ripken pounced on the ball and made a perfect throw to the plate to retire Moseby and end the inning.
Tigers starter Steve Searcy came in with six losses in his first seven decisions this year, not to mention a 6.10 ERA. But the Orioles did not let that influence their struggling offense, which was shut out for seven innings Monday night by Frank Tanana and his 6.06 ERA.
Searcy had not started since Aug. 15 and had not won since July 15, but he pitched well in one previous start against the Orioles (July 25) and found them very accommodating again last night.
He gave up just two hits through the first five innings, one of them a pop up by Craig Worthington that fell in front of Cuyler in center. Bill Ripken delivered the Orioles' first solid hit in the third, a double to left that turned into three bases when the throw from Moseby sailed over third and even got past catcher Rich Rowland.
The Orioles didn't bunch two hits together in the same inning until the wild sixth, when Cal Ripken followed up the double Ripken ejection with a one-out single and went to second on a base hit by Ron Kittle. Searcy walked Mickey Tettleton on a very close pitch to load the bases, but escaped by striking out Worthington and getting Mike Devereaux on a fly to center.