Johnson plan works out all right Manager defies critics, beats Seattle ace without lefties

October 02, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Knowing that he might be leaving himself open to second-guessing and criticism, Davey Johnson stuck to his original plan of attacking Seattle's Big Unit without some of his bigger weapons in last night's 9-3 victory in Game 1 of the Division Series.

The Orioles manager again broke out his right-handed lineup against Mariners left-hander Randy Johnson last night, starting Jerome Walton at first base, Jeff Reboulet at second and Jeffrey Hammonds in left field. The only left-handed hitter was center fielder Brady Anderson, who was 1-for-8 against Johnson this year.

Though the right-handed trio went hitless, it played a big role in the victory. Hammonds drew two walks off Johnson and scored two runs and Reboulet laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt that preceded Eric Davis' two-run single in the four-run fifth inning.

Davey Johnson said he based his decision on the success the Orioles had against the Mariners' ace during the regular season, going 3-0 in games he started while sitting some regulars.

Johnson had considered starting Roberto Alomar at second until Tuesday's workout, when Alomar's strained left shoulder began to ache while hitting right-handed. And Reboulet provided a nice option with a .314 career average against Randy Johnson, including an August home run.

Rafael Palmeiro, who attempted to sway his manager into giving him the start at first base, didn't face Randy Johnson in three games this season and had only one hit in 21 career at-bats against him.

"It's his decision. I didn't have much to say. That's the way it is. It's OK," said Palmeiro, who replaced Walton when Johnson left after five innings and had a double in the Orioles' four-run sixth off right-hander Mike Timlin.

Said Johnson: "He understood. He wasn't heartbroken. We have talked about this all year long. For whatever reason this year, he hasn't been patient against left-handed pitching.

"This guy is probably the most intimidating pitcher in baseball. It's not a reflection on Palmeiro or [B.J.] Surhoff. It's just he's very intimidating to left-handed batters, so I stayed with my right-handed hitters.

"There really wasn't a decision at second base. Robbie isn't able to bat right-handed because his left shoulder's bothering him, so that wasn't an option."

Neither was Chris Hoiles playing first base, where he had started twice against Randy Johnson this year. Hoiles was behind the plate last night with Mike Mussina pitching, as usual, and Lenny Webster was to get an extra night to rest his sore right elbow. But Hoiles was cut on the head by a Joey Cora backswing in the sixth inning and Webster was pressed into action.

Sitting Webster early opened the door for Walton, who demonstrated to his manager over the past few weeks that he had recovered from the groin and hamstring injuries that led to three surgeries this year. Walton hit two home runs in Sunday's victory over Milwaukee and didn't appear to be overmatched at first, though he's not Palmeiro's equal defensively.

"Walton is a good fastball hitter. He showed in Milwaukee he was ready to play and hit a couple fastballs out," said Johnson, who used Walton at first base on occasion while managing the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and 1995.

Hammonds homered off Randy Johnson in the same game that Reboulet connected, his only hit in eight at-bats this season against Johnson. Lifetime, he was 2-for-13 against Johnson, similar to the career numbers put up by Surhoff (2-for-12), who didn't face the Big Unit this year.

"This is a game he's going to have to play in. He's probably not going to start the other games," Johnson said of Hammonds, whose playing time has been limited down the stretch because of a strained left Achilles' and a 23-for-124 (.185) slide since July 22.

Davey Johnson knows the gamble. How many managers willingly would go into the first game of a playoff series, on the road, without his leading hitter and run producer? Alomar batted .500 (35-for-70) with four homers and 17 RBIs over his last 19 games, raising his season's average to .333. Palmeiro had five homers in his last 16 games, and 38 overall to go with 110 RBIs. He was tied for third in the American League with 22 homers after the All-Star break.

Johnson said bypassing Surhoff was the toughest move. "B. J.'s probably my favorite player. I like to see him play. But I also feel if my right-handers can be patient as they have in the past, Randy might have to throw a lot of pitches and we can get into the bullpen and use my bench.

"It was just a decision. I make decisions about what I think our best chances are to win, and this is the one I made."

It was one Seattle manager Lou Piniella saw coming. "I expected him to play his right-handed lineup," he said.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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