The Orioles were able to squeeze seven innings out of their starting pitcher last night. They shortened the parade of relievers that had worn a path at Comiskey Park. They wouldn't need anyone to mop up, because they wouldn't find the mess of another defeat spilling onto their home turf.
Jason Johnson gave the Orioles a quality start, his second in two tries since rejoining the club from Triple-A purgatory. In that regard, the right-hander had separated himself from the pack. He hung tough as his pitch count climbed to 126, and the Orioles hung a 4-3 defeat on the Texas Rangers before 44,092 at Camden Yards when reliever Jeff Zimmerman balked in the winning run with none out.
Shortstop Mike Bordick erased a 3-1 deficit in the seventh with a two-run homer, his seventh of the year to lead the club. His RBI total jumped to 29, three more than league runner-up Jason Giambi. He also broke the team record, held by Cal Ripken, for RBIs by a shortstop in one month.
Ripken was a central figure in the winning run. He led off the ninth with a broken-bat single off Zimmerman. Pinch runner Mark Lewis went to third on a double by Will Clark, and catcher Greg Myers dug in with a 1-1 count as plate umpire Ian Lamplugh and third base umpire Brian O'Nora signaled a balk.
"He started his motion and stopped, then got back off the rubber." Lamplugh said.
Manager Mike Hargrove said he never had seen a game end with such a call, and he missed this one, as well. He was talking to one of his hitters when he heard second baseman Delino DeShields yell "balk" and race onto the field.
"I'm glad I was on this side of it when it happened," Hargrove said.
Left-hander Buddy Groom (1-1) got the victory with two perfect innings of relief.
Pat Rapp, Sidney Ponson and Jose Mercedes had lasted a combined 10 2/3 innings in Chicago, time enough to cough up 17 earned runs. Johnson allowed at least one hit in every inning but was burned only twice -- on a two-out homer by Chad Curtis in the third and a two-out double by Gabe Kapler in the fourth.
Pitching with a blister on the middle finger of his right hand, a condition that cropped up last summer, Johnson became the first Orioles starter to go seven innings since Mike Mussina went eight on April 19.
"The kid got outs. Nothing dramatic," Hargrove said. "For the most part, [catcher] Greg Myers did a great job of getting him in the strike zone and keeping him there."
Having gotten out of another in a long line of jams in the seventh, Johnson was rewarded when Bordick lined a 1-1 pitch into the first row of seats in left field. Urged to come out of the dugout for a curtain call, Bordick obliged with a sheepish grin and a quick wave.
"That was a weak curtain call," Hargrove said. "He was embarrassed. The guys had to talk him into it."
"It just feels good to be able to contribute," Bordick said. "When you're in a good groove, you just want to hold onto it as long as possible."
The victory was the Orioles' second in six games and improved their record to 13-9. It also was their eighth win in nine home games.
The Orioles played most of the game without left fielder B. J. Surhoff, who was ejected in the first inning for arguing a called third strike. It was the first ejection of an Oriole this season.
Jeff Conine replaced Surhoff, who hadn't missed an inning this season before last night.
Despite several opportunities, the Orioles wouldn't score until the sixth, when Conine led off with a home run, his second in two games.
For the first time in five games, the Orioles weren't scored upon in the first or second inning -- a victory of sorts for Johnson.
He struck out rookie Mike Lamb to open the third inning. No. 9 hitter Royce Clayton doubled off the scoreboard in right, and after Johnson got the second out, Curtis jumped on a hanging fastball and deposited it into the Orioles' bullpen for a 2-0 lead.
Johnson was making his second start since being recalled from the minors on April 21.
Paroled after three strong outings in Rochester, when he allowed only two runs and walked six in 20 innings, Johnson positioned himself for a victory in Oakland. All he couldn't control was the bullpen, which fumbled a 2-1 lead.
"Spring training and now are two different worlds right now," said Johnson, who has shrunken the blister by applying a vitamin solution. "I wasn't taking it [spring training] seriously. I thought I had a job already, which is never true, especially for a young guy like me. I won't let that happen again."
The Orioles tried to pull even in the third inning, like in the first inning putting two runners on for Albert Belle. Brady Anderson doubled with one out and DeShields walked. Conine struck out before starter Esteban Loaiza and Belle engaged in an 18-pitch marathon. The standoff included 13 foul balls and a full count, and ended with a pop-up behind the mound. By finally succumbing, Belle's slump grew to 4-for-30 over his last nine games.