Johnson reconnects, 6-2

Second tie-breaking homer in 2 nights gives O's series over Indians

April 07, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

A pitching staff constructed of baling wire and guts and a lineup held together by age, a wisecracking first baseman and a quick-starting catcher conspired for something remarkable. Only three games into an uncertain season the Orioles savored a series victory over the Cleveland Indians with a 6-2 win last night that again hinged upon late-inning offense.

Orioles starter Pat Rapp's high-wire six-inning start bested the Indians' Charles Nagy and Charles Johnson's three-run homer broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning. First baseman Will Clark injected three hits to influence the Orioles' tying and go-ahead rallies.

And somewhere, Mike Hargrove fought back a chuckle and a grin.

The Orioles captured the series by receiving at least six innings from a third consecutive starter, a third home run by Johnson in five at-bats, a solid effort by left-handed reliever Buddy Groom and a continuation of Clark's predictable April surge.

Cal Ripken provided a significant one-out single in the sixth inning. Nagy lived down to his reputation as a home run pitcher. By game's end, a Camden Yards crowd of 35,181 was chanting "overrated" at the visitors.

"To me, that's very satisfying," Johnson said of the win. "When the game's on the line, to be able to help us get ahead is big."

For a second straight night the Orioles pummeled Indians pitching with late-inning power and for the second straight night Indians manager Charlie Manuel wasn't around to see the end, heaved for arguing balls and strikes during a pitching change.

For the first time since Opening Day 1999, the Orioles sport a winning record.

Only three games into his team's season, Manuel has suffered more losses to the Orioles than did his predecessor all of last season.

Hargrove dare not gloat; however, he did allow himself another celebratory cigar.

After an inopportune effort in Monday afternoon's 4-1 season-opening loss, his Orioles pounded six home runs while scoring 17 runs the last two nights. Johnson's breakout series included eight RBIs, equaling his output in last season's first 30 games.

And by refusing to panic during Sidney Ponson's troubled second inning the night before, Hargrove left his bullpen in order, even with closer Mike Timlin probably headed to the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle.

The win was spiced by Ripken's 2,993rd career hit, a two-hop grounder that bounced off third base to begin the damage in a telling sixth inning.

Ripken's hit coincided with his adopting a more upright, relaxed stance. In the fourth inning, he drove a fly ball to the warning track for the first time this year, spring training included.

The Orioles scored first for the third time in as many games when third base coach Sam Perlozzo and Delino DeShields manufactured a first-inning sacrifice fly for Albert Belle.

Sitting on third base following a one-out walk and single by B. J. Surhoff, DeShields tested Indians second baseman Roberto Alomar on Belle's pop fly behind first base. Alomar made a running catch but had to contort himself to make a running throw home. The play wasn't close.

Just as Ponson threatened to self-destruct in Wednesday's second inning, Rapp (1-0) almost did the same against the American League's most explosive lineup.

Rapp, who entered spring training as the projected No. 5 starter and exited as the No. 3, punished himself last night in the second inning by serving back-to-back one-out walks to Richie Sexson and David Justice.

Travis Fryman forced a tie game with a single to right field but became the inning's second out when he tried to stretch it against right fielder Belle. Belle's assist became bigger when Sandy Alomar followed with another single that scored Justice for a 2-1 lead.

The Orioles wasted no time recovering with Clark again as catalyst with a double following Ripken's five-pitch walk. Injuries and age (36) may have subtracted from Clark's reputation as a power hitter but his rhythmic swing remains unaffected. His closed stance, pointed front toe and incessant waggle precede a swing beautiful for its simplicity.

Many hitters slog through April; Clark attacks the month. He entered this season a career .312 hitter for the month, including a .354 (17-for-48) performance with the Orioles last season. On Monday he extended a remarkable hitting streak to 14 Opening Day games and on Tuesday reached base three times on a walk, single and double.

Last night, he was deprived of his first RBI by a warning-track bounce but settled for a ground-rule second-inning double that advanced the tying run to third base.

"In the last three games he's been in the middle of every rally we've had," Hargrove said of Clark.

Clark's production will be slightly stifled by his place within a plodding lineup, a fact impressed upon him before his second stay on the disabled lis last season.

He sits behind 41-year-old designated hitter Harold Baines and 39-year-old Ripken, players with a combined three steals the last five seasons.

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