Yankees contain O's fury, 2-1

J. Johnson aggression, Miller tirades bring only 9th loss in a row

Young pitcher excels inside

Manager blasts team, then umps, is ejected

July 03, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- On a road trip where the Orioles have come to expect the unexpected, Eddie Murray finished last night's game in charge of the lineup card, Albert Belle made a catch that became a non-catch, Rocky Coppinger could be found in the eighth inning of a one-run game and fifth starter Jason Johnson outlasted David Cone.

For a team no longer bound as much by wins and losses as projection and intrigue, the Orioles' 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees may not have been as significant as its most uplifting subplot.

Johnson gave life to his manager's insistence upon more aggressive pitching while lasting seven innings in a tough-luck loss to the defending world champions. Cone and three relievers, including closer Mariano Rivera, limited the 32-46 Orioles to eight hits to extend their season-high losing streak to nine games. Again entrenched in last place in the American League East, the Orioles haven't won since the day Belle posted a clubhouse petition to boycott an exhibition in Rochester.

The Orioles fell to 4-21 within their division as a Yankee Stadium crowd of 37,518 watched its team go to 9-1 in its last 10 games.

As Johnson pitched more efficiently than Cone, his offense stranded 10 runners, seven in scoring position.

"I'm going to beat these guys one of these days. I almost did enough to beat them today, but it didn't happen," said Johnson.

"I think Jason Johnson matched David Cone better than David Cone," Orioles manager Ray Miller said.

The game represented the most eventful of the season for Miller, who critiqued his bullpen in a full clubhouse meeting beforehand and was then ejected for arguing a reversed call during the fifth inning.

Miller was provoked by Derek Jeter's fly ball to right field that Belle juggled as he steamrolled into the right-field corner. Initially ruled to have made the catch, Belle was finally judged to have trapped the ball against the wall. Miller burst from the dugout to confront first base umpire and crew chief Larry Barnett. Replays revealed the reversal justified, but Miller has long been tired of odd calls going against his team in this place.

"I know they got the play right," Miller said. "What upset me was the second base ump [Greg Kosc] told Jeter he was out. But when they came out and asked him he said he didn't know. That, and the call in the first inning when Brady was called out [stealing] got me. It should have been 1-0."

The Orioles may have lost a game. Miller may have lost his temper. Belle may have lost a call. However, the visitors dugout -- and its bullpen -- watched something memorable.

"I feel real comfortable," said Johnson. "I pitched against one of the finest teams in the major leagues. To do what I did gives you a lot of confidence. I hope to build on it."

Johnson's willingness to pitch inside often has made a strong impression on his manager and general manager Frank Wren, so much so that he is included in most projections of next season's rotation.

Last night represented only Johnson's 20th major-league start and his seventh with the Orioles. But with less major-league service than any other pitcher on a veteran staff, Johnson (1-3) carries the aggressiveness beaten out of several older teammates.

"I have a lot of confidence in the stuff I have," said Johnson. "I had just one chance to get out of the fifth and I got it done."

The Yankees never punished Johnson. They tweaked him.

In the third inning they worked their efficient offense for two runs by advancing runners, stealing against Charles Johnson and looping well-placed hits.

Jeter bartered his one-out single into a run by advancing on Paul O'Neill's ground ball to the mound and scoring on Bernie Williams' soft-serve single that fell into shallow left field.

Williams successfully tried Johnson for his fifth stolen base. One pitch later Tino Martinez revealed the gamble as genius by lining a single into shallow left-center field, bumping the lead to 2-0.

Johnson's biggest test might have come in the fifth inning during Miller's five-minute tirade against an umpiring crew willing to reverse its initial out call. The ejection was the first of a trying season for Miller, who led the league in the category last season. But as his manager gesticulated to three of the four-man crew, Johnson was left waiting to face O'Neill and Williams with one out and Jeter in scoring position. O'Neill and Williams walked, loading the bases with one out and causing Miller's replacement, Murray, to warm Scott Kamieniecki.

To his credit, Johnson pitched inside against the Yankees' string of left-handers rather than nibble defensively. The tactic worked against Martinez, who struck out looking for the second out, and designated hitter Chili Davis, who went down swinging.

"I had confidence in every pitch I had. Sometimes that doesn't go far enough," he said. "It's just one of those games that happens from time to time. Everyone is going out there and busting their tail. We're just getting bad breaks. It's one of those days."

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