Big Unit unplugged yet again by Orioles Like Mariners teammates, ace has little impact in series of frustration

October 06, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Randy Johnson has another winter to figure out how to pitch to the Orioles, and another harsh memory to take home with him from Camden Yards.

Maybe by next season, Johnson will become to the Orioles what he has been to the rest of the American League. He might be a perennial Cy Young Award candidate and potential Hall of Famer, but he's just a goofy-looking 6-foot-10 guy giving up gopher balls against the Orioles.

In eliminating the Seattle Mariners with a 3-1 victory in Game 4 of their American League Division Series, the Orioles continued their long-standing dominance of the usually dominant 34-year-old left-hander.

It began with a bases-empty home run by light-hitting Jeff Reboulet in a two-run first inning. It continued with another bases-empty home run by designated hitter Geronimo Berroa in the fifth.

And it ended with Johnson being taunted by the crowd with sarcastic chants of "Ranndeeee Ranndeeee Ranndeeee" throughout the remainder of his complete-game performance.

In losing to the Orioles for the fourth time this season and second time in five days -- the first time he had lost back-to-back starts since April 30-May 6, 1994 -- Johnson fell to 3-9 against them for his career.

And, as to be expected, he's getting a little testy about it. The first question Johnson was asked last night was about his problems against the Orioles.

"Are you saying I pitched a bad game?" Johnson said after a game that included none of the rain delays, power outages or other oddities that have occurred in some of his previous starts here. "I didn't pitch bad, did I? I pitched my butt off today."

He did, indeed, striking out 13 and walking only two. But the home runs he gave up to Reboulet -- his second off Johnson this year -- and Berroa did enough damage because of the way Mike Mussina and the bullpen quieted a Mariners offense that led the majors in runs scored and hit a major-league record 264 homers.

"I don't think I pitched a better game all year," said Johnson, who was 20-2 against the rest of the American League this season. "I felt I did everything I could to keep my team in the game. Unfortunately, Mike didn't waver from his game plan. It goes to show you that good pitching beats good hitting."

Said Mariners manager Lou Piniella of Johnson: "He pitched his heart out today. He pitched like a champion. He went out and battled. He pitched an outstanding game. The other man on the other side was just better."

Orioles pitchers again shut down the Mariners in general, holding them to two hits yesterday, and Ken Griffey in particular. After hitting .304 with career highs of 56 home runs and 147 RBIs, the All-Star center fielder had two singles in 15 at-bats and two RBIs in this series. He also struck out three times.

"We just didn't hit. That's the bottom line," said Griffey, who struck out once and didn't get the ball out of the infield yesterday while going 0-for-4. "I didn't come in expecting anything. I just go up there and see what happens."

And, as to be expected, shutting down Griffey was the collective goal of the Orioles' pitching staff and pitching coach Ray Miller.

"We weren't going to let him be the spark plug of their club," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "Ray Miller studies everything. He felt that when Ken Griffey hit a home run or had a big hit, it seems to open the floodgates for them. We felt we weren't going to let him be the big guy. Walk him. Pitch around him. We weren't going to let him beat you."

Considering their amazing run of success against Johnson, maybe the Orioles also figured that he wouldn't beat them, either. It's one of the more inexplicable happenstances in sports, baseball's answer to Bjorn Borg not winning the U.S. Open in tennis or Sam Snead in golf.

Johnson doesn't like dwelling on it.

Seattle teammate Jay Buhner can't figure it out.

Asked last night whether he had an answer, Buhner smiled.

"Nope," he said. "How's that?"

Four and out

A look at Seattle's Big Four of Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and Jay Buhner, who hit just .217 during the series:

.............. AB .. R ... H .. BI .. SO ... Avg.

Griffey ...... 15 .. 0 ... 2 ... 2 ... 3 .. .133

Martinez ..... 16 .. 2 ... 3 ... 3 ... 3 .. .188

R odriguez ... 16 .. 1 ... 5 ... 1 ... 5 .. .313

Buhner ....... 13 .. 2 ... 3 ... 2 ... 6 .. .231

Tot. ......... 60 .. 5 .. 13 ... 8 .. 17 .. .217

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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