O's remain blue versus Jays, 6-5

Fletcher grand slam gives Toronto 11th in row over O's

SkyDome streak hits 12

Johnson's slow pace, HRs irk Hargrove

May 09, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Customs stopped the Orioles once again last night.

Unable to win in this building and unable to stop hemorrhaging home runs, the Orioles fell to the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-5, last night before a distracted crowd of 15,103 at SkyDome.

Johnson (0-2) lasted just four plodding innings and absorbed the loss because he couldn't keep the Blue Jays from smashing two home runs that brought them all their runs. A two-run homer by third baseman Tony Batista and a fourth-inning grand slam by catcher Darrin Fletcher gave the Blue Jays an insurmountable 6-2 lead. As a result, the Orioles couldn't avoid their 11th straight loss to the Blue Jays nor a 12th consecutive loss inside this retractable chamber of horrors.

The Orioles' run of futility against the Blue Jays is approaching historic proportions. They dropped 16 straight to the Cleveland Indians in 1954 and suffered 15 consecutive road losses to the Tribe in 1955-56. The losing streak at SkyDome is now the second-longest in franchise history.

Transfixed by the Toronto Maple Leafs' simultaneous elimination from the NHL playoffs, few attending realized the significance of what they saw. As if to underscore the frustration, two eighth-inning runs allowed the Orioles to gain their sixth one-run loss to the Blue Jays in their last 13 games. The aftermath left the Orioles counting 13 stranded base runners and their 10th loss in 15 games. It also tested manager Mike Hargrove's patience.

Four starts after returning from Triple-A-Rochester, a clearly bothered Johnson sought a post-game meeting with Hargrove "to clear the air." He emerged after about five minutes vowing to change tendencies that have frustrated his manager, pitching coach and himself.

"I'm tired of getting down 2-0 and 3-0. I'm going to start throwing first-pitch fastballs. If a guy is a first-ball fastball hitter, he's going to get a first-pitch fastball. Here it is. show me you can hit it," said Johnson, who left the game with a 6.14 ERA and six home runs allowed in 22 innings.

No one questions Johnson's ability. However, his long strolls around the mound and tendency to hold the ball with men on base have a numbing effect on teammates and appears to be caused by his otherthinking.

"Jason was his own worst enemy," said Hargrove. "When he does that...when he doesn't pitch very effectively, you pint to all of that."

"It affects the whole team," pitching coach Sammy Ellis said of Johnson's labored pace.

The Orioles have timed Johnson's pace and describe it only as below average. However, there have been instances when Johnson has held the ball for as many as five seconds after becoming set.

"He takes his time; that's the way he pitches," said catcher Charles Johnson. "I don't know if it works to his advantage or his disadvantage. Maybe if we speed him up, he wouldn't be the pitcher he was today."

"I've got good stuff," Jason Johnson insisted. "But for some reason I'm going 2-0 and 3-0 and not getting ahead of hitters."

Hargrove and Ellis tried to address the habit during spring training. Since Johnson's April 23 promotion from Rochester, he has largely been left along. That may change given last night's admission.

"When you throw first-pitch strikes you can see the difference in batting average and on-base percentage," said Hargrove. "They're totally divergent. It's what makes a good hitter into less of a good hitter. Run the numbers. This isn't something you sit around and just think up."

The Blue Jays don't pitch well -- actually, they have pitched worse than every major-league club and several minor-league affiliates -- but they mangle the ball at home.

Batista's home run gave the Jays home runs in a club-record 19 consecutive home games. They have hit 48 home runs in 19 games at SkyDome compared to 14 home runs in 15 road games and set a franchise record for April home runs with 48. And the Orioles are the wrong team to shut off anyone's power supply.

Blue Jays starter Kelvim Escobar (3-4) wasn't dominant, yielding 12 hits in seven innings, but he was able to sidestep huge innings, baseball's ultimate key to success.

By keeping the Orioles inside the fence, he benefited from a line-drive double play in the fifth inning and a catch at the left-field wall against Delino DeShields with two out and the bases loaded in the sixth.

"They were able to play ahead all night," said B. J. Surhoff. "When you play ahead, you have a lot more leeway."

Charles Johnson allowed the Orioles a brief tie in the fourth inning after a two-out walk to Cal Ripken and Jeff Conine's single. Johnson smoked a sinking liner that left fielder Marty Cordova belly-flopped after and missed. A turf bounce took the hit to the wall as both runners scored and Johnson chugged into second base for his fourth hit in six at-bats.

The Blue Jays' response was to speed-dial long distance.

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