O's remain blue versus Jays, 6-5

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

SkyDome streak hits 12

Johnson out after 4

HR bug bites twice

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.

Orioles starter Jason Johnson (0-2) lasted just four innings and took the loss because he couldn't keep the Blue Jays from smashing two home runs that brought them all their runs. As a re-sult, the Orioles couldn't avert their 11th straight loss to the Blue Jays nor a 12th consecutive loss inside this retractable chamber of horrors.

Once more the Orioles could count their mistakes on one hand. A two-run homer by third baseman Tony Batista and a fourth-in-ning grand slam by catcher Darrin Fletcher gave the Blue Jays an insurmountable 6-2 lead.

"I've got good stuff. But for some reason I'm going 2-0 and 3-0 and not getting ahead of hitters," said Johnson, who promised to make amends. "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."

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 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 Blue Jays don't pitch well -- actually, they have pitched worse than ev-ery 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 any-one's power supply.

Starting pitchers from Mike Mussina on down have been especially vulnerable. Of the six pitchers who have made more than one start, all but Pat Rapp have surrendered at least six home runs. Johnson joined the club in only 22 innings. Mussina, who allowed only 16 home runs last season, has surrendered eight in 51 1/3 innings this season. Only Rapp, whose leading career attribute is keeping the ball in play, has produced a laudable ratio -- two homers in 36 1/3 innings.

Johnson's previous start was complicated by a ripped nail on the index finger of his pitching hand. Last night, he struggled when pitching from the stretch and was very deliberate at times.

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

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

After a perfect first inning, Johnson allowed Carlos Delgado a leadoff single. Two hitters later, Batista reached him for his ninth home run and a 2-0 lead.

Blue Jays starter Kelvim Escobar wasn't dominant, allowing 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 on a fifth-inning hit-and-run and a catch at the left-field wall against Delino DeShields with two out and the bases loaded in the sixth.

Catcher Charles Johnson allowed the Orioles a brief tie in the fourth inning following a two-out walk to Cal Ripken and Jeff Conine's single. Johnson hit a sinking line drive that left fielder Marry Cordova belly-flopped after. 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. Singles by Delgado and Batista sandwiched a walk to Brad Fullruer following an extended at-bat.

With nowhere to go against Fletcher, Johnson was taken out of the park on his second pitch, which cleared the lower facade in right-center field for a 6-2 Jays lead.

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

Earlier this season, Orioles pitchers minimized home runs by saying they could be overcome as long as they weren't surrendered with men on base. That defense no longer exists.

Fletcher's was the third grand slam allowed by the Orioles this season; six have come with two runners on base. Johnson's six home runs allowed have produced 11 runs.

Last Friday, a three-run, seventh-inning homer by New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams forced an 8-8 tie in a game the Orioles eventually lost in the ninth on two home runs.

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