Johnson left at a loss over his woes vs. O's Big left-hander struggles with control, velocity

October 02, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- The Orioles had punctured his aura of invincibility once again, leaving Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson to try and figure out how a makeshift lineup of part-time players and slap hitters could succeed where some of the best lineups in the American League had failed.

There was no easy answer.

"Maybe you should tell all of the Baltimore hitters to start wearing California Angels or Toronto Blue Jays jerseys," he said sarcastically.

Might not be a bad idea. The Orioles, for no apparent reason, have beaten Johnson three times this year and won all four games he has appeared in against them. They now have won eight of 11 decisions against him over the course of his career.

This one clearly was the most painful. Johnson gave up five runs on seven hits over five innings and was the losing pitcher in a lop-sided 9-3 loss that left the Mariners in a must-win situation for Game 2 today.

"I know that the hype was that I was 0-2 against them this year," Johnson said, "but I didn't have that on my mind. I felt like I had pitched some pretty good games against them. I go out and approach every game the same way. I just went out there and tried to do my best."

His best wasn't really his best, however. Johnson looked uncomfortable on the mound and his fastball was clocked as slow as 88 miles per hour, nearly 10 mph slower than his best stuff. He struggled with his control and walked the first two batters in a four-run Orioles fifth inning that all but decided the game.

Not a good night for the Big Unit. Johnson came into the game on a roll. He had won his past four regular-season games and become the first Mariners pitcher ever to reach 20 victories. He was pitching in the noisy Kingdome with the largest baseball crowd ever to watch a game there cheering his every pitch.

The Orioles had shelved three of their top left-handed hitters -- Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar and B.J. Surhoff -- in favor of another hybrid lineup heavy with right-handed hitters.

Manager Lou Piniella confirmed that the real Randy Johnson wasn't on the mound and said afterward that he would bring his big left-handed ace back in Game 4. He conceded, however, that the Orioles have put together a surprisingly successful game plan against the game's most intimidating pitcher.

"Certainly, their club has to have a little more confidence against him," Piniella said. "But again, if he's out there with his best stuff, he's capable of turning the tables in a hurry. I didn't think he had his best stuff out there today. Randy wasn't sharp, so I don't think it was a fair comparison."

Johnson tried to take it in stride. The Mariners have been in this kind of fix before. They were down 0-2 to the New York Yankees in the 1995 Divisional Series and rebounded to win the last three games. But there were a couple of important differences.

That time, they came home for the final three games of the best-of-five series, and that time, Johnson bailed them with an outstanding performance in Game 3 -- then came on in relief to win Game 5.

"It's not the same," Johnson said. "First of all, we're not down 0-2. We're down 0-1, and we have another game in Seattle tomorrow. I think we'll be fine."

He acknowledged, however, that he had put the club in a difficult situation. The Mariners must win today to avoid going to Baltimore in a sudden-death situation. Left-hander Jamie Moyer will pitch the most pressure-packed game of his career against Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson.

"Today I didn't do my part," Johnson said. "And I put us in a little bit of a hole, but I'm a grown man. I'm not going to go home and tear myself up. We've got Jamie Moyer tomorrow and Jeff Fassero in the next two games and I have confidence they'll pitch well. Then maybe I'll get another chance."

Unit pricing

Mariners ace Randy Johnson went 20-4 this year, but he was 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA against the Orioles in the regular season. Last night was no better. A closer look at how Johnson has fared against the Orioles this season:

.. .. .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..BB .. ..SO .. ..NP .. ..Res

5/8 .. .. ..6 .. ..6 .. ...5 .. ...2 .. ..10 ...120 ...L 13-1

5/18 .. .. .5 .. ..2 .. ...4 .. ...8 .. ...8 ...118 .. ...ND*

8/18 .. .. .8 .. ..4 .. ...3 .. ...4 .. ..13 ...136 .. .L 4-3

10/1 .. .. .5 .. ..7 .. ...5 .. ...4 .. ...3 ...100 .. .L 9-3

Tot .. .. .24 .. .19 .. ..17 .. ..18 .. ..34 ...474 ... ..0-3

* -- Orioles win, 8-7

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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