A friendly wind blows for Johnson and Orioles

April 14, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was perfect Dave Johnson weather or at least that's what the Texas Rangers must have been muttering to themselves Friday night as fly ball after long fly ball died on the warning track at Arlington Stadium.

The wind was blowing in from all fields and nothing was going out. The Rangers hit the ball hard enough to win but remained winless. The kid from Middle River must have had it set on climate control.

Johnson knows what everyone is thinking. He's getting used to this kind of thing. Pitch well and there's always some extenuating circumstance. Pitch poorly and you weren't that good to begin with. This is his lot in life, to be the guy you would've beaten if only . . .

So it was on Friday night, when Johnson gave up four hits over 6 1/3 innings on the way to a 3-0 victory over the Rangers, but a wind-aided victory is still a victory -- the first by the Baltimore Orioles this year.

"I hope I pitch 35 times under conditions like that," he said jokingly, "although I don't think I would win them all. Just 33 or 34 of them."

Of course, he'll need a little more help from the new-look Orioles lineup, which managed five hits Friday and batted a combined .138 in the first three games. First baseman Glenn Davis drove in two runs and leadoff hitter Brady Anderson drove the Rangers crazy, but it'll take more than that to live up to all the advance billing.

The Orioles didn't get into the win column for the first time on the strength of their supposedly explosive lineup. They won because Johnson pitched resourcefully, the bullpen was efficient and -- oh, yeah -- the wind was blowing in.

"I know it saved me at least twice," said Johnson. "At the time, I had a lead, so I was fortunate that even if they hurt me, they would not have put us behind or anything. In that situation, I was afforded the luxury of letting them hit the ball."

To be accurate, it probably saved him four times, but that really isn't the issue. The wind blows out sometimes, and that does not make it any less of a loss when four or five fly balls sail over the bleachers.

Johnson adapted beautifully to his environment. He realized that Arlington Stadium was playing bigger than the Astrodome on Friday night. He threw strikes and let the fly balls fall where they might. They all fell short of the fence and he fell into his first victory. He is the Orioles winningest pitcher again, if only for the next day or two.

"Tricked 'em again," Johnson said, a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. "My game is making them put the ball in play. I had a lead. I knew they would have to hit the ball a ton to get it out of here."

Johnson seems to be at his best when the Orioles are at their worst. Since the start of the 1990 season, he is 10-0 in games he has started when the club is coming off a loss.

"I don't know why that is, because you don't think about whether you're 9-0 or 0-9 when you're warming up int the bullpen," he said. "You're thinking about what you have to take out there today."

He had just enough on Friday night to pull the Orioles out of a two-game funk, even if it didn't look like much to the Rangers.

"He was just in good command of his pitches tonight," manager Frank Robinson said. "He had good stuff and good location, and when he had to make a pitch he made the pitch.

"When you see him out there, he doesn't impress you, but he wins. He finds a way to win. In this game, they don't say 'How?', they just say 'Did you?' "

Johnson's performance proved again that spring training numbers aren't worth the stat sheet they are printed on. He struggled to an 0-3 record and a 5.46 ERA in exhibition play, but brought it all together when it finally counted.

"Some guys never have good springs," pitching coach Al Jackson said. "I don't dwell on it. The important thing to me now is, 'Did he win?' "

He did, but he needed some late-inning help from the bullpen. Paul Kilgus took over with two on and one out in the eighth and retired the only batter he faced. Mark Williamson followed him to the mound and carried the shutout through the eighth before Olson came on for the save.

Orioles today

Site: Arlington Stadium

Time: 3:05

Orioles starter: Jeff Robinson (10-9, 5.96 in 1990)

Rangers starter: Nolan Ryan (0-1, 6.43 in 1991)

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

TV: Channels 2, 20

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