Ripken rescues 4-2 win

His HR in 9th saves O's after Timlin fails to do same vs. Seattle

Rapp sparkles through 7

J. Johnson's strong 8th raises relief question

May 24, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Still working a Rubik's Cube pitching staff, the Orioles happened upon heroes in different places last night.

Pat Rapp ended a funk with his best start of the season, Jason Johnson made his bullpen debut a smashing one during a 13-pitch eighth inning, then Cal Ripken salvaged another potentially gruesome ending with a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Orioles a 4-2 desperation win over the Seattle Mariners before 37,747 at Camden Yards.

The mix overcame closer Mike Timlin's second blown save in the top of the ninth and served as the Orioles' third win in 18 games. It also helped celebrate eight shutout innings by Rapp and the Orioles' newest middle reliever. Combined with Ripken's electric ending, bases-empty home runs by Brady Anderson and Harold Baines to lead off the first two innings were enough to give the Orioles only their fourth win in May."Tonight's a win and we'll take it. We've lost too many like this in the last two weeks," said Hargrove."Any time you go through a period like we've experienced, it's frustrating," said Ripken. "But once we right ourselves, I think there's every reason to believe we can put something together."

Timlin (1-1) dropped a 2-0 lead when right fielder Jay Buhner crashed a two-run homer on an 0-2 slider in the inning's top half. At least two hats and countless taunts were thrown from the stands to land in front of the home dugout. Hargrove grimaced.

Ripken instead reversed the mood when he smacked his second game-ending home run this season, off Jose Mesa. Ripken ended an April 19 win over Tampa Bay in similar fashion after going 16 years since his last game-ender.

In his second relief appearance with the Orioles and his first this season, Johnson struck out his first batter, Mark McLemore, on three pitches. Alex Rodriguez then singled to extend his hitting streak to 17 games only to be caught stealing by catcher Charles Johnson's perfect strike. Johnson then left the field to a standing ovation after retiring John Olerud on a grounder to second base."It felt different," said Johnson of his abrupt entrance, "because I'd never walked that walk before."

The eighth inning had been Mike Trombley's domain. But recent slippage in New York and Texas has caused Hargrove to hesitate regarding his role.

Johnson became available through happenstance. His scheduled start against the Rangers last Saturday was rained out, re-setting his next start until this Saturday against Oakland.

Hargrove is using Johnson in relief through at least tonight but never suggested employing the right-hander in such a pivotal point. "I didn't know I would be brought into a game like that," he said. "But once I got in the game, I didn't care what the score was. I just wanted to protect the lead."

Johnson's stunning performance may have created more intrigue than it solved. Hargrove pleaded guilty to "pushing the envelope a little bit, taking him completely out of his role." But the manager also said he was very impressed by what he saw. Johnson's performance lasted only 13 pitches but might have been long enough to give the front office pause. Consideration already has been given to promoting Josh Towers from Triple-A Rochester into the rotation and reassigning a starter - either Rapp or Johnson.

Asked about a possible role change for Johnson, Hargrove said curtly, "He's starting Saturday."

There is little doubt where Johnson's preference lies. "I don't have the mentality to be a reliever. It's too tough for me to go out there and try to get ready every day," he said.

Just as Johnson impressed in a different role, Rapp's masterpiece came with some out-of-character strokes. Typically, Rapp starts are drawn out with plenty of deep counts, nibbling and middle-inning exits. Last night, he painted hurriedly, facing five more than the minimum number of hitters through six innings. Rapp pitched into the seventh inning for only the second time in nine starts. Of his 113 pitches, all were fastballs except 12 curves and a changeup.

The Orioles wasted no time against Seattle starter Gil Meche, who pitched well except for the homers to Anderson and Baines.

Anderson's home run came in a reunion of the game's two most prolific leadoff power hitters. His home run was the 39th of his career leading off a game. Recently signed Mariners center fielder Rickey Henderson has led off 77 times with a home run, including wins Saturday and Sunday. Baines' home run was his 377th and moved him ahead of Mike Schmidt and George Brett into 23rd place on the all-time RBI list (1,596).

But once again, focus centered on the Orioles' end game. Timlin remains a mystery, a potentially dominant talent who pitches under a dark cloud."Timlin has great stuff. He's got a 93-mph slider. He saws guys off," said Anderson. "I'm amazed at some of the things that have happened. What they've been doing against him is impossible."

The mistake to Buhner extended a pattern that has seen Timlin repeatedly hurt when ahead in the count.

Timlin has never offered excuses for his tough start. He again took questions last night."That's the nature of the game. I'm trying to put [Buhner] away and I didn't make my pitch," said Timlin, who preserved a 2-2 game by escaping a first-and-third jam. "There aren't too many times I'm wasting pitches. I'm in an attack mode there. I want to put the game away. I threw it belt high and he belted it."

Added Hargrove: "He missed by four feet. That's a lot for a major-league pitcher. He shouldn't miss by that much. Why? ... If anything, I think he hung it because he's trying to do too good a job."

The blown save was the Orioles' 13th in 19 opportunities, a pace that translates into 50 dropped saves for the season. Despite Timlin's two bobbled chances, Hargrove remains adamantly behind him.

"Mike saved 27 games for this club last year. For us to be successful he's got to be our closer, and he will," said Hargrove.

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