Revamped N.Y. is cut above, 1-0

Newcomer Ventura homers

Wells holds O's, out-duels Johnson

Wind holds in Segui drive

Yanks 3rd baseman breaks tie in 7th

O's had 10 runs in opener

April 04, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

For a team that won its fourth consecutive American League pennant last season, the New York Yankees certainly have a lot of new faces this season. And two of them helped spoil a solid pitching performance last night by Orioles starter Jason Johnson.

David Wells held the Orioles to four hits in 71/3 innings, and Robin Ventura broke a scoreless tie with a seventh-inning home run, leading the Yankees to a 1-0 victory before 32,142 at chilly Camden Yards.

Wells isn't exactly a new face. He won 34 games for the Yankees over two seasons before getting traded to Toronto for Roger Clemens in 1999. With some sweet talk from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Wells agreed to come back this past off-season, signing a two-year, $7 million deal.

After shedding 30 pounds over the winter, Wells took his sleeker physique to the mound last night and didn't allow an Orioles runner to reach third base.

With a game-time temperature of 53 degrees, and a strong breeze gusting in from center field, this game was an offensive struggle in sharp contrast to two days earlier, when the Orioles claimed a 10-3 victory on a sunshine-filled Opening Day.

Through six innings, Wells held the Orioles to three hits and Johnson held the Yankees to four.

But Johnson left his second pitch of the seventh inning over the outer half of home plate, and Ventura pulled it down the right-field line for a home run. The ball traveled just an estimated 342 feet, but it was enough to clear the out-of-town score-board.

"It wasn't a bad pitch," Johnson said. "It was exactly where I wanted it. It was a good changeup, moving low and away. It just so happens he was out in front of it."

When Scott Brosius retired after the World Series, the Yankees needed a new third baseman, so they went across town and got Ventura from the Mets for David Justice, who was later traded to Oakland.

All told, the Yankees added 15 new players for this season, including first baseman Jason Giambi, who is 1-for-8 through the first two games.

Johnson breezed through New York's retooled lineup for most of the game, but his hard luck continued, and he remained winless since Aug. 6. Johnson won 10 games last year, after winning just one the year before, but he went 0-6 with a 6.62 ERA to finish the season.

"He was great," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of Johnson. "He gave us problems last year. Good splitter. A fastball that can get up to 93 or 94 [mph]. He really can change location and velocity. That's important. He threw more strikes than Boomer [Wells], which is unusual because Boomer throws a lot of strikes."

It looked like Johnson was in trouble in the second inning, as Bernie Williams hit a leadoff single and Ventura drew a nine-pitch walk, fouling off four pitches before taking ball four.

Jorge Posada, a switch-hitter batting left-handed against the right-handed Johnson, took the next pitch down the left-field line. Orioles left fielder Melvin Mora was positioned toward center field, but he sprinted over and made a diving catch.

The Orioles' best chance to score against Wells died in the wind. In the third inning, with Chris Singleton on first base, David Segui ripped a first-pitch fast-ball to deep center field.

But with a swirling wind blowing throughout the ballpark, the ball just hung in the air. Williams caught it in front of the warning track, and seeing this as he rounded first base, Segui waved his arms in disgust.

The Orioles didn't threaten again until the seventh inning. Tony Batista, whose grand slam off Roger Clemens sparked Monday's victory, reached with two outs as Williams dropped a pop-up for an error.

Mora walked, putting runners at first and second, and up stepped Jay Gibbons. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove has said he will let the left-handed-hitting Gibbons hit against left-handers this year, and Gibbons had an opposite-field single off Wells in the third inning.

But this time, Gibbons swung at Wells first pitch and hit a weak pop-up into foul territory, which Ventura caught to end the inning. Gibbons slammed his bat into the ground in frustration.

Those feelings continued for the Orioles into the eighth inning, as Mike Bordick hit a one-out double off Wells for his first hit of the season. Yankees manager Joe Torre pulled Wells, replacing him with another newcomer, Steve Karsay, who got Jerry Hairston to fly to right field for the out.

The Orioles have tried to get Hairston to hit the ball on the ground more, especially in the leadoff role, but Hairston flew to the outfield in each of his four at-bats.

Bordick tagged up and reached third base, so the Orioles had the tying run 90 feet away. But Torre replaced Karsay with left-hander Mike Stanton, and Singleton flied out to center, ending the inning.

Mariano Rivera, in his first appearance since blowing the save in Game 7 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitched the ninth inning for the save.

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